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Early role of audit firm questioned

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SANTA FE – Before an audit of 15 New Mexico behavioral health providers was conducted, a manager of the audit firm helped New Mexico officials screen Arizona companies that ended up replacing some of those providers, legislators have been told.

The administration of Gov. Susana Martinez says it was simply smart planning, but some legislators have objected to the timing.

“The idea that you and the HSD are in Arizona long before this process started … it’s just really concerning,” Sen. Benny Shendo Jr., D-Jemez Pueblo, told Thomas Aldridge of Boston-based Public Consulting Group.

Aldridge appeared this week before the interim Behavioral Health Subcommittee, which Shendo chairs.

Aldridge told the panel he was asked by Human Services Department official Diana McWilliams to attend a meeting with an Arizona company to help assess its suitability to work in New Mexico.

He said he was asked to be an “independent, third-party eye” because of his broad experience with community behavioral health providers.

Asked by Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, whether attending such meetings was routine for him, he replied, “I don’t typically do that, but I have.”

Papen suggested at the Tuesday meeting in Las Cruces that it was a conflict of interest for Aldridge to be screening the Arizona companies. He said it wasn’t.

PCG had been hired by HSD to verify and expand on findings by the state’s behavioral health overseer, OptumHealth, that HSD says showed “widespread abuse and claims mismanagement” among 15 nonprofits.

Aldridge told the committee the Arizona trip occurred before the PCG audit of the nonprofits began.

HSD’s Matt Kennicott said the Arizona trip was either the last week in February or the first week in March. The audit got underway on Feb. 25, according to HSD’s summary of audit results.

Kennicott said Aldridge was at meetings with Southwest Behavioral Health Services – now working in New Mexico as Agave – of Phoenix, and La Frontera, of Tucson.

“Given the seriousness of the abuse that was found in the Optum reports, it was critical to properly plan for the possibility of transitions in service so that we could meet our highest priority of protecting consumers and ensuring continued service,” Kennicott said.

Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said the timing of the meetings indicates that HSD had decided to bring in Arizona companies even before the PCG audit, and the audit just provided a rationale.

Twelve of the 15 New Mexico nonprofits are being replaced by Arizona providers, and two more are under temporary management by Arizona firms.

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