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Senior services contract to be terminated

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A state agency that oversees various programs for elderly New Mexico residents announced Wednesday it will sever its contract with one of four regional management entities due to concern over possible financial irregularities.

In addition, the Aging and Long-Term Services Department asked state Auditor Wayne Johnson to investigate suspected “misuse, waste and abuse of public funds” on the part of the North Central New Mexico Economic Development District, a multicounty nonprofit agency that runs the Non-Metro Agency on Aging.

The chain of events could rattle a state system that helps provide home-delivered meals, transportation and job-finding assistance for thousands of New Mexico seniors, though state officials said they would seek to minimize any disturbances.

“For us, the No. 1 goal will be uninterrupted distribution of services to seniors,” acting Aging and Long-Term Services Secretary KyKy Knowles told the Journal.

In her letter to the state Auditor’s Office, Knowles alleged several potentially serious financial problems:

⋄  A program audit in September discovered an overbilling of $336,834 in administrative funding, a mix of federal and state dollars, on the part of the Non-Metro Agency on Aging.

⋄  The regional entity also overcharged the state $113,879 by submitting inflated reimbursement requests for a federal program that assists grandparents raising their grandchildren.

She said her agency had asked those in charge of the Non-Metro Agency on Aging to explain the discrepancies but got no documents in response and, in one case, no answer at all.

The discrepancies prompted the state agency to sever its contract with the regional entity, effective Feb. 1, 2018, it announced Wednesday. The state will then take over the regional entity’s day-to-day duties for six months, until a new plan can be put in place.

The Aging and Long-Term Services Department has an annual contract of roughly $20 million with the Non-Metro Area Agency on Aging, which operates throughout much of the state but not in Bernalillo County.

In all, the Non-Metro Area Agency on Aging served 72,875 older adults and caregivers through contracts with 150 senior centers and meal sites in the 2017 budget year, according to the state. The regional entity is run by the North Central New Mexico Economic Development District, whose board of directors includes legislators, business owners and other elected officials in eight northern New Mexico counties.

The district’s executive director, Tim Armer, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday. But Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, president of the district’s board of directors, said there may have been a misunderstanding over the contract’s scope.

“We’re not making any money – it’s costing us money,” Trujillo said of the contract. “It’s going to be very difficult for anyone else to come in and take over.”