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Health Department faces employee lawsuit

A former Albuquerque police officer has filed a lawsuit against his new employer, the Department of Health, saying he was demoted for investigating substandard conditions at an Albuquerque disability care facility operated by an associate of Gov. Susana Martinez.

The lawsuit, filed in District Court in Santa Fe this week, does not name the associate but says the facility is part of The New Beginnings LLC corporation, which operates living homes in Albuquerque for people who are developmentally disabled and subsidized by the state’s Medicaid-funded Developmental Disabilities Waiver Program.

Patrick Ficke says in the lawsuit that he was investigating reports of mistreatment of residents at one of the New Beginnings homes in Albuquerque but was told to not pursue the investigation.

After continuing to investigate, he says he was demoted after being told a person close to the governor has ties to the residency home.

Ficke’s attorney, Laura Schauer Ives, said Wednesday that they are not identifying the person they say is the governor’s associate in order to protect a person who tipped Ficke to the conditions at the home.

“His demotion was in direct retaliation for the concerns he’s raised,” she said.

Those concerns include dirty and cluttered living spaces, exposed electrical wiring and medication issues, the suit says.

Diane Nunn, executive director at The New Beginnings, did not return calls for comment. The facility has been criticized by the Department of Health in annual compliance reports for issues similar to those reported by Ficke.

The Department of Health declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Ficke was a police officer with the Albuquerque Police Department when in 2013 he was charged by Rio Rancho police with punching his wife,. He resigned from the department. Domestic violence charges were later dropped by Sandoval County prosecutors.