Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Facing the cancellation of its state contract next week, a regional management entity that oversees services to more than 70,000 elderly New Mexicans and their guardians has filed a lawsuit in state court in an attempt to halt the action.
In the lawsuit, filed last week in the Santa Fe-based 1st Judicial District, the Non-Metro Area Agency on Aging accused the state Aging and Long-Term Services Department of violating its right to due process by making a hasty and unfounded decision to sever the $20 million annual contract.
It also asked a judge to order that the contract be honored at least through June 30, when it is set to expire.
“We have attempted to work with the department, but the communications and direction they have provided have been vague, contradictory, delayed and confusing,” said Tim Armer, executive director of the North Central New Mexico Economic Development District, which operates the management entity.
The state aging department announced last month that it was ending its contract – effective Feb. 1 – with the Non-Metro Area Agency on Aging.
In explaining the decision, acting Secretary Kyky Knowles claimed the management entity had overbilled the state by more than $450,000 by overcharging for administrative expenses and submitting inflated reimbursement requests.
She referred the possible financial wrongdoing to State Auditor Wayne Johnson, a Republican, who recently announced his office would launch a special audit of the management entity’s finances.
However, some Democratic lawmakers have expressed concern about disruptions in a system that provides transportation, home-delivered meals and job-finding assistance for thousands of seniors.
Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, a former Cabinet secretary for the agency, has also questioned whether Knowles’ agency followed appropriate procedures – including holding public hearings – before deciding to cancel the contract.
The Non-Metro Area Agency on Aging is one of four management entities in the state. It works with providers in most of New Mexico, but not in Bernalillo County.
If its contract is ended next week, 28 New Mexicans will lose their jobs, a spokesman for the North Central New Mexico Economic Development District said Wednesday.
The state agency has indicated it plans to take over the regional entity’s day-to-day duties for up to six months after the contract is severed, or until a new plan can be put in place.