SANTA FE – New Mexico Human Services Secretary Sidonie Squier, a controversial figure while at the helm of one of the state’s most influential agencies, will step down Dec. 1.
In a resignation letter sent to Gov. Susana Martinez a day after the Tuesday general election, Squier defended the actions taken by the agency under her watch and described her nearly four-year tenure as productive.
“This has been the most exciting and fulfilling job I’ve had throughout my career, and I simply feel that now, during this transition period, is the most appropriate time to move on,” Squier said in a separate Thursday statement.
If she had stayed on, Squier would have faced another Senate confirmation hearing, due to a 2008 change to the Constitution that makes Cabinet members subject to confirmation at the start of each term of a governor – even if the governor has won re-election.
Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, said she didn’t think Squier would have been confirmed by the Senate a second time.
“I wish her well, but I just think she was the wrong person for the job,” Papen said, saying Squier caused “havoc” in the state system that serves substance abusers and the mentally ill.
The Human Services Department cut off Medicaid funding to 15 New Mexico behavioral health providers in June 2013, alleging that an audit showed overbilling and possible fraud. Twelve of the nonprofit providers were replaced by five Arizona companies.
Attorney General Gary King’s office is looking into possible fraud; two providers have been cleared and investigations into the others are pending.
Squier referred to the situation in her resignation letter, saying, “Even though the behavioral health audits have been ignored by the attorney general, if there is any justice in the world, I believe this administration did the right thing and that it will be proven as such.”
Senate Democratic Leader Michael Sanchez of Belen said Thursday that the behavioral health shake-up has had a harmful effect.
“I think the damage that she has done to the behavioral health providers in New Mexico has devastated that community, and I don’t know that we’re ever going to be able to recover from it,” Sanchez told the Journal.
In another controversy, Squier apologized in September 2013 for an email in which she denied the existence of hunger in New Mexico. She later apologized for the comments, saying her email was poorly worded. Her agency is in charge of running the state’s food stamp and income support programs, among others.
The governor nominated Squier as her Human Services Department cabinet secretary in December 2010, just weeks after winning election to her first term. Squier was unanimously confirmed by the Senate in March 2011.
Before coming to New Mexico, Squier had worked for the U.S. Health and Human Services Department and held state-level health policy positions in both Texas and Florida.
Martinez, a Republican who was easily re-elected Tuesday to a second term, lauded Squier’s role in revamping New Mexico’s Medicaid program – the new program for managing Medicaid spending is called Centennial Care – and expanding behavioral health services in the state, though Democrats have contested that claim.
“Her leadership has been valuable and important during all of the health care changes going on in our country, and I wish her the very best in her future work,” Martinez said in a Thursday statement.
The Martinez administration is expected to name a replacement for Squier by the time her resignation takes effect.
Journal staff writer Deborah Baker contributed to this report.