Top House Republicans are asking for a federal probe into a state program amid client abuse allegations - Albuquerque Journal

Top House Republicans are asking for a federal probe into a state program amid client abuse allegations

House Minority Leader Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, left, and House GOP whip Greg Nibert of Roswell speak during an end-of-session news conference on March 18, as other House Republicans look on. The two Republicans, along with another lawmaker, recently sent a letter to a federal watchdog requesting an investigation into the state Department of Health after abuse allegations surfaced. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

SANTA FE — Top state House Republicans have asked a federal watchdog to investigate New Mexico’s Department of Health, after the recent disclosure of abuse cases involving individuals with developmental disabilities who are enrolled in a state program.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration has been tight-lipped about details of the cases, citing patient privacy laws, but recently announced its intent to conduct in-person wellness checks on all 6,815 individuals enrolled in the program that’s intended to provide an alternative to institutional care.

However, the letter sent this week by three top House GOP lawmakers to Christi Grimm, the inspector general within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said a federal probe could determine whether any federal dollars were misused and whether state providers violated federal care standards.

“New Mexico families who have developmentally disabled adults or children must be confident their loved ones are safe and being cared for properly,” the legislators wrote in their letter.

They also said the state has a “rather dismal” record when it comes to protecting vulnerable individuals under the care of state agencies.

House Minority Leader Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, one of the three legislators who sent the letter, said Thursday legislators could have taken action in response to the situation if more information had been released before the 60-day legislative session ended March 18.

He also said it would be healthy for an outside investigation to be conducted, adding, “Given the vulnerable population that’s involved, I think we need to be extra diligent and make sure there aren’t additional issues.”

The Lujan Grisham administration this month said it was ending the contracts of four agencies that were involved in providing services to a client with developmental disabilities who was severely injured while under their care.

The governor then said last week an additional 13 possible abuse cases had been uncovered during an initial round of wellness checks. Three of those cases involve clients who have died, and at least some of the suspected abuse could involve vulnerable adults who were malnourished, she said.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said Thursday about 2,500 wellness visits have been conducted by state employees across various agencies, though efforts to check on more people have been hampered by some individuals not being at home.

In addition, the state has contracted with German Burnette & Associates, an Albuquerque law firm, to conduct an external investigation. The firm will work with Accenture, a company that specializes in Medicaid issues, in conducting the probe, which will be separate from an internal review of how the state oversees its provider agencies.

“We share the representatives’ concerns over any case of neglect, abuse or fraud, as well as the goal of protecting New Mexico’s most vulnerable populations,” DOH spokeswoman Jodi McGinnis Porter said in a statement.

In recent years, the state has directed hefty funding toward eliminating a waiting list for the developmental disabilities waiver program. Participants in the program can receive therapy, help with employment and other services aimed at allowing them to be active members of the community.

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