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Deal struck to keep NM senior services contract in place

SANTA FE — Facing a looming deadline, a New Mexico state agency has backed off its plan to sever a $20 million annual contract with a regional management entity that oversees services to more than 70,000 seniors and their guardians.

In a joint statement released late Tuesday, the Aging and Long-Term Services Department and the Non-Metro Area Agency on Aging said they had struck a deal that avoids the contract cancellation in exchange for the regional entity dropping legal action against the state.

The agreement also calls for state monitoring of the entity’s job performance through June — when the current contract expires — and a series of town hall meetings to be held in the next two months.

“It will continue to be our priority to support those who care for our seniors,” said acting Aging and Long-Term Services Secretary Kyky Knowles. “We have to make sure that providers are receiving the support they need and ensure that taxpayer dollars are appropriately spent.”

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, 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 had criticized the contract decision and 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.

During a Monday committee hearing at the state Capitol, several Senate Democrats pointedly questioned Knowles on Monday about why the agency did not alert lawmakers to the contract situation last fall.

In response, she said the two sides had been trying to resolve the dispute for months and insisted services for elderly New Mexicans were never at risk.

Top officials in Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration seconded that claim, with the governor’s chief of staff Keith Gardner telling reporters this week, “The notion that meals on wheels and programs like that weren’t going to get funded is an absolute falsehood.”

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.

Tim Armer, the executive director of the North Central New Mexico Economic Development District, which runs the regional management entity, said Tuesday he was “gratified” to reach the agreement.

“We look forward to working with ALTSD collaboratively and in close communication for the betterment of serving seniors throughout the state of New Mexico,” Armer added.

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