SANTA FE – Two Democratic lawmakers are criticizing Gov. Susana Martinez administration’s recent decision to terminate a $20 million contract with a regional management entity that provides various services for roughly 70,000 elderly New Mexicans and their caregivers.
In separate letters, the legislators claim the Martinez administration did not follow federal and state regulations in ending the contract, and say the decision could put seniors at risk.
Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, said Friday that the situation is similar to the Martinez’s administration move to freeze Medicaid payments to 15 behavioral health providers in 2013 due to suspected fraud. All of the providers were eventually cleared of wrongdoing by Attorney General Hector Balderas.
“I will not be silent in the face of this latest, similar destructive action that harms and disrespects seniors in New Mexico,” Morales said, while calling on the two-term GOP governor to backtrack on the decision to end the contract.
And Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, a former Cabinet head of the Aging and Long-Term Services Department, said current agency leaders should have held public hearings before terminating the contract.
Aging and Long-Term Services Acting Secretary KyKy Knowles announced last month that the department was severing its contract – effective Feb. 1 – with the Non-Metro Area Agency on Aging, which operates throughout much of the state, but not in Bernalillo County.
The acting Cabinet secretary also asked state Auditor Wayne Johnson to investigate possible misuse of public funds on the part of the management entity, which is one of four such entities operating in New Mexico.
Specifically, Knowles claimed the management agency had overbilled the state by more than $450,000 by overcharging for administrative expenses and submitting inflated reimbursement requests.
In a Friday statement, agency spokesman Paul Rhien said the department’s priorities are safeguarding taxpayer dollars and supporting the providers who offer home-delivered meals, transportation and job-finding assistance for thousands of seniors.
“The Aging and Long-Term Services Department took this action for a singular reason: to ensure services to New Mexico’s senior citizens are not disrupted by questionable finances,” Rhien said. “We are working with providers to make sure these services continue and we won’t be distracted by politics.”
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.
After the contract is officially severed, the state intends to take over the regional entity’s day-to-day duties for up to six months, or until a new plan can be put in place.