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Thursday, March 13, 2003

Adult-Guardianship Program May Change Offices

By Thomas J. Cole
Journal Investigative Reporter
    SANTA FE The state's guardianship program for mentally incompetent adults would be moved out of the Attorney General's Office under a proposal before the Legislature.
    The measure calls for the Developmental Disabilities Planning Council, a state agency, to take over the $1.6 million program for some 450 low-income adults.
    Attorney General Patricia Madrid supports the move. She told a legislative committee that the expertise of her office is the law, not social services.
    The guardianship program was transferred to the Attorney General's Office in about 1995. It previously had been run by the Department of Health and the Agency on Aging.
    Madrid's office has contracts with two nonprofit organizations Desert State Life Management Services and Arc of New Mexico to provide the guardianship services.
    The contractors have court authority to make decisions about living arrangements, medical care and other matters for the adults in the program.
    The proposal to shift the program to the Developmental Disabilities Planning Council is in part the result of complaints from advocates for the disabled.
    The advocates say several allegations of abuse, neglect and exploitation of adults in the program have been referred to the Attorney General's Office, but the office has done little in response to the allegations.
    The advocates upset with the Attorney General's Office include Michelle Lujan Grisham, director of the state Agency on Aging; Katrina Hotrum, state ombudsman for adults under long-term care, and V. Colleen Miller of the Protection and Advocacy System, an advocacy group for the disabled.
    "Dozens of complaints were filed with your office and were either lost or simply closed without investigation," Miller wrote to Madrid in February.
    The complaints have dealt with the guardianship services provided by Desert State Life Management Services, which is based in Albuquerque.
    Barbara C' DeBaca, executive director of Desert State, couldn't be reached for comment.
    Officials in the Attorney General's Office said most of the complaints about Desert State have dealt with whether it made appropriate decisions for its clients, such as making changes in residential care.
    Corliss Thalley, an assistant attorney general, said the office has no authority to override a decision by Desert State without getting a court order.
    Desert State is required by law to act in the best interests of a client, Thalley said.
    The Attorney General's Office has been working on a program that would examine how Desert State makes decisions whether they are properly documented and whether they are made by qualified employees.
    The Attorney General's Office also recently contracted with a private investigator to examine complaints.
    "We're doing what we can with the program," said Deputy Attorney General Stuart Bluestone.
    The House and Senate have approved separate bills (HB 416 and SB 424) to transfer the program but still must agree on a single bill.
    The legislation is sponsored by Rep. J. Paul Taylor, D-Mesilla, and Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces.