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State to developmental disabilities program providers: If you abuse or neglect those in your care, we are coming for you

SANTA FE – Last weekend, more than 75 employees from the New Mexico Department of Health (DOH), Aging and Long-Term Services Department (ALTSD), and the Human Services Department (HSD) conducted in-person wellness checks on over 1,000 clients being cared for under the state’s Developmental Disabilities Waiver (DD Waiver) programs to ensure clients are in good health and being well cared for by providers. These checks will continue until every one of the more than 6,000 clients served by DD Waiver programs are assessed in person.

Earlier this month, the DOH terminated the contracts of four providers delivering services to people on the DD Waiver after an alleged case of extreme abuse and neglect of a client. This case prompted DOH to take a close look at the circumstances surrounding other recent cases, including five incidents of serious neglect and abuse that included malnutrition. In three of these cases, the client has died. These deaths are not definitively tied at this time to the abuse and neglect allegedly perpetrated on these individuals and are part of ongoing investigations by the state and law enforcement.

“My message is this: If you are in a position of caring for a developmentally disabled adult and you abuse that responsibility, take note, because we are coming for you,” said Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. “We are using every tool at our disposal to protect these vulnerable individuals and to make sure that incidents of abuse, neglect, and exploitation do not happen ever again in our state.”

Over the weekend, eight additional incidents of alleged abuse and neglect were uncovered by the three agencies during the wellness checks. These are also being investigated.

“The uncomfortable truth is that being disabled makes someone more vulnerable to abuse,” said DOH Secretary Patrick Allen. “All of us have to do more to better serve the disabled community.”

Other steps being taken by the state include an independent, third-party investigation to evaluate the DOH Developmental Disabilities Division (DDSD) and the DOH Division of Health Improvement (DHI) procedures to determine systemic flaws that allowed the alleged incidents to occur.

The governor has called for an all-hands approach to improving how the state serves and protects those with developmental disabilities. ALTSD Secretary Katrina Hotrum-Lopez is temporarily stepping in to serve as the DDSD and DHI Director and is leading an internal investigation into these divisions with the goal of identifying internal processes that need to be improved. She will continue to serve as secretary of ALTSD.

“We are shifting the focus of oversight from paper and process reviews to client-centered quality of care,” said ALTSD Secretary Katrina Hotrum-Lopez. “This shift will allow us to focus more directly on protecting clients from abuse and neglect as well as reviewing the quality of investigations, complaint resolutions and ensuring timeliness of response. It is not okay for us to do the minimum; our vulnerable populations deserve more.”

HSD is also joining this effort and is investigating multiple DD Waiver providers for potential Medicaid fraud.

“We take allegations of abuse or neglect of our Medicaid clients very seriously,” said HSD Acting Deputy Secretary Alex Castillo Smith. “HSD is tasked with investigating allegations of potential Medicaid fraud, and we have initiated an investigation into the billing practices of caregivers, agencies and treatment providers who have been involved in treating or caring for disabled individuals who are covered by Medicaid and where there is an allegation of abuse or neglect.”

Where there is evidence of any Medicaid fraud, the Human Services Department will work with the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, which will conduct a complete investigation and undertake any potential prosecutive action.

Anyone found to be in an abusive situation will be removed and individuals associated with cases where abuse and neglect is substantiated will be referred to the Employee Abuse Registry. Licensed professionals will be referred to their respective boards, and referrals to law enforcement will also be made as appropriate.

Anyone suspecting abuse, neglect, or exploitation of any person who is on one of the state’s Developmental Disabilities Waiver Programs, or anyone else, please call the Adult Protective Services Central Intake Unit toll-free at: 1-866-654-3219.

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