N.M. health boss concerned oversight of disabilities program

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – New Mexico’s health secretary said he’s concerned about the state’s oversight of a program that uses private providers for home and community-based services for people with developmental disabilities but is being investigated on allegations of abuse, neglect and exploitation of program participants.

Department of Health Secretary Patrick Allen told The New Mexican that the majority of private providers in the program do a “marvelous job” and care deeply about their clients, but said a small number of providers aren’t doing what’s needed.

“I think I’m increasingly concerned that we’ve not been doing the job we need to do to make sure that all our clients have fabulous providers and are getting the services and care that they need,” said Allen, who was appointed health secretary in January.

An investigation of alleged abuse and neglect involving a developmentally disabled person was launched after the case was brought to the state’s attention on March 1. The state started to reexamine past incidents of suspected abuse and neglect of disabled clients, including three in which a client died and the state terminated contracts with four providers in the Albuquerque area. The allegations also prompted a review of the entire developmentally disabled waiver system, which is meant to offer an alternative to institutional care.

As of noon on Friday, state workers had conducted in-person wellness checks on 4,654 of the 6,815 in the program and identified 68 sites with possible concerns.

At 26 of those sites, the concerns dealt mostly with home repairs, damages or other environmental issues.

But at the remaining 42, the site visits resulted in reported allegations of potential abuse, neglect and exploitation of some of the most vulnerable – and sometimes voiceless – people in New Mexico.

Each of the 68 incidents of concern identified so far is being fully investigated, officials said.

“Our staff have reported to me visits they’ve been involved in where, like, a parent or guardian or someone has said, ‘This is the first time anybody from the agency has ever visited,'” Allen said.

Details on the case of abuse that triggered the in-person wellness checks have not been made public, and Allen declined to provide an update on the disabled client who suffered severe and life-threatening injuries, or even say if the person is still alive or recovering.

“I’m afraid I just really can’t right now at the advice of various investigators that are pursuing this,” Allen told the newspaper.

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