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Governor vows to stop guardianship abuse

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday addresses the opening session of the 41st annual New Mexico Conference on Aging. (Rick Nathanson/Albuquerque Journal)

In about a decade, one third of New Mexicans will be age 60 or older, begging the question, “have we as a state prepared to meet the needs of that population?” asked Alice Liu McCoy, outgoing secretary of the state Aging and Long-Term Services Department.

That question is one of many addressed Tuesday at the 41st annual New Mexico Conference on Aging, held at the Sandia Resort and Casino Conference Center and offering more than 60 workshops on a variety of topics.

More than 1,300 people are attending the conference, which continues through today. Dedicated to highlighting New Mexico’s aging population, the conference is geared for caregivers, family members and service providers throughout the state. It is being sponsored by the state Aging and Long-term Services Department, whose mission is to promote programs leading to lifelong independence and healthy aging, as well as advocacy for legislation and issues that serve New Mexico’s elderly and disabled adults.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham addressed the conference Tuesday morning and said her administration is working to correct a number of problems, including those related to guardianship.

“Here in New Mexico, veterans, senior citizens and disabled adults have been taken advantage of by unscrupulous court-appointed, corporate guardians,” she told the conference. “That means somebody decides that you can’t control your own life and neither can your family. They separate you and the court determines that a corporation can make life and financial decisions for you.”

Corporate guardians, she said, “have been stealing people’s property, separating them from their families and hiding their benefits, as well as “locking folks away where nobody can find them and nobody can visit.”

Her administration, she said, is working to prevent this and adopt the best possible standards and safeguards. McCoy, who will become the director of the state Developmental Disabilities Planning Council, will lead that effort.

Lujan Grisham also said the state was expecting a windfall of more than $1 billion from gas and oil revenues. Out of that money, she will ask the state Legislature for $25 million to help create a fund for recurring expenses for senior programs and services. She also will ask for money to fully fund pre-K programs.

Katrina Hotrum-Lopez, Bernalillo County’s director of behavioral health services, who will replace McCoy as the new secretary of Aging and Long-Term Services Department, said she will focus on increasing the department’s budget and restoring “programs that have been fractured during the last administration.”

Among those are restructuring and building more senior centers, rebuilding Meals on Wheels and senior transportation programs, and enhancing the department’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman program, which advocates for residents of nursing homes, monitors the quality of care provided and investigates complaints.