'Shocking and intolerable': In wake of client injury, state to do wellness checks within DD program - Albuquerque Journal

‘Shocking and intolerable’: In wake of client injury, state to do wellness checks within DD program

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, third from left, speaks during a news conference to address reviews of clients on the state developmental disability waivers on Monday, in Santa Fe. (Ryan Boetel/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Monday announced a sweeping plan to conduct in-person wellness checks on the thousands of adults who receive care as part of the Developmental Disability Waiver program in New Mexico.

The interviews, which began last week, have already started to identify more cases of possible abuse.

The announcement came in the wake of a client with developmental disabilities being seriously injured while under the care of a service provider. Though details of the client’s injuries haven’t been made public, the governor described them as “horrific” during a news conference Monday.

Last week, the state Department of Health terminated the contracts of four agencies that cared for the client as part of the waiver program, which enables for people to receive various types of services in the community. The programs, funded with state and federal money, are intended to be an alternative to institutional care.

“These are shocking and intolerable sets of circumstances,” Lujan Grisham said at the news conference.

The governor appeared, along with state and federal law enforcement officials and leaders of the state’s Human Services Department and Department of Health, to discuss how officials are responding to the abuse allegations.

State health officials said they are conducting wellness checks on all clients who received services as part of waiver programs for adults with developmental or intellectual disabilities.

That review, though still in its early stages, has already brought to light other possible abuse cases, which have been referred to law enforcement agencies, Lujan Grisham said Monday.

Authorities didn’t release many details about any of the possible abuse cases, citing ongoing investigations.

Lujan Grisham said the Department of Health and other state employees plan to meet with all of the roughly 6,000 adults who receive services as part of a DD waiver program within a month.

“Whenever there is … a horrific case of abuse, it always warrants a deeper look at the entire system,” she said.

Already, about 1,000 clients have been contacted for wellness checks.

Five recently reported cases and eight new possible abuse or neglect case are under investigation, in addition to the case of the injured client that led to contracts being terminated.

In three of those cases, the clients have died. Some of the suspected abuse possibly involves vulnerable adults who were malnourished, the governor said.

“Expect a knock on the door from us,” Lujan Grisham said of the ongoing wellness review.

Last week, officials announced contracts the state had with At Home Advocacy Inc.; A New Vision Case Management; Lynn Barbour, LLC; and Sylvester & Company were being terminated because of the allegations related to the injured client.

About 700 adults were receiving care from those providers. The contractors are currently working to place those clients with other providers, said Department of Health Secretary Patrick Allen.

At Home Advocacy Inc. of Albuquerque, provided residential in-home care; A New Vision of Corrales provided the case management; Sylvester & Company of Los Ranchos provided physical therapy services; and Lynn Barbour LLC of Albuquerque provided behavioral consultations.

Karen Garcia, the area director for At Home Advocacy, said in a statement that the company immediately contacted authorities when it learned a caregiver had taken a client out of state and the client suffered serious injuries.

“We are shocked and heartbroken that anyone would hurt someone we support and grateful for the quick action of everyone who worked to protect the victim,” Garcia said.

The company said it disagreed with the state terminating its contract and the business will appeal.

Efforts to reach the other businesses that lost contracts weren’t successful on Monday.

According to DOH, the combined state and federal dollars paid to these providers for the 2022 calendar year was: At Home Advocacy, $17 million; A New Vision, $2.5 million; Sylvester & Company, $736,455; Lynn Barbour LLC, $439,696. He said no additional provider contracts have been changed yet as a result of the department’s wellness checks

“The uncomfortable truth is that being disabled makes someone more vulnerable to abuse,” Allen said.

State government officials asked that if anyone suspects someone is being abused to report the matter to Adult Protective Services Statewide Intake at 1-866-654-3219.

“We have opened an active investigation. So we will not be commenting on any of those (investigations),” said Department of Public Safety Secretary Jason Bowie. “We want to assure everybody that if anything rises to the level of criminal in nature, that we stand in full support to make sure that our partners at that Department of Health have all the support that they need.”

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