April 3, 2023

DD Waiver program under investigation following reports of neglect, deaths

On Friday, the New Mexico Department of Health released an update about its unannounced health and safety wellness checks for clients receiving services from the states’ Developmental Disabilities (DD) Waiver programs. 

As of Thursday, the DOH reported it had completed 2,558 in-person unannounced wellness visits statewide for the 6,815 clients receiving DD waiver services.

“These visits identified 45 incidents of alleged abuse and neglect that can range from an environmental hazard in the home, missing staff or other issues discovered by state agencies during the wellness checks. Every one of these incidents is being fully investigated,” a DOH news release states.

“The number of incidents requiring investigation speaks volumes about the absolute necessity and importance of these unannounced visits,” DOH Secretary Patrick M. Allen said in the news release. “We launched these mass visits with an all-hands-on deck mentality, and these numbers demonstrate a need for a comprehensive re-evaluation of the Developmental Disabilities Supports Division and the Division of Health Improvement oversight. We must take every single step to assure New Mexicans living with developmental disabilities are receiving the proper care they deserve.”  

Another round of unannounced in-person wellness visits is going on now following the DOH ending its agreements earlier in March with four providers which delivered services to 708 clients on DD waivers resulting in severe and life-threatening injuries to a client, a March 10 news release states.

“The egregious failure by these agencies to ensure the wellbeing of our disabled clients warranted immediate action to safeguard residents,” Allen said in the March 10 news release. “Anyone charged with protecting the most vulnerable New Mexicans is held to the highest standard, and we will hold anyone that abuses that responsibility to full account.”  

All clients who had been utilizing the four under-fire provider agencies must be transitioned to other provider agencies by April 30, by law.

“In the interim, the DOH Developmental Disabilities Supports Division will conduct face-to-face visits with the family living clients every week until they are fully transitioned to new providers, in addition to monitoring the case management transitions until every individual is settled with a new team,” the March 10 news release states.

In the wake of these issues, New Mexico House Republicans are asking for a federal investigation into the New Mexico Department of Health following media reports of neglect and abuse of developmentally disabled patients.

House Republican Leader Rep. Ryan Lane of Aztec, House Minority Whip Greg Nibert of Roswell and House Republican Caucus Chairwoman Gail Armstrong of Magdalena sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General Christi Grimm requesting an investigation into the alleged 13 cases of “possible abuse, neglect and exploitation of developmentally disabled individuals,” the letter states.

“These incidents of serious neglect and abuse, including malnutrition, are related to apparent systemic failures of various home and community based Medicaid waiver programs under the purview of these two Department of Health divisions,” the letter states.

In a story by the Santa Fe New Mexican, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said there were at least 13 cases of “possible abuse, neglect, and exploitation of developmentally disabled individuals living in 24-hour residential facilities.” At least three clients died from the alleged treatment, the letter states.

“Unfortunately, the State of New Mexico has a rather dismal record of protecting vulnerable populations who are under the care of state agencies and who receive needed services through state administered programs,” the letter states. “These recently discovered cases of alleged abuse, neglect and exploitation create a new round of questions and concerns. First of which is whether New Mexico state agencies having jurisdiction in overseeing Medicaid waiver programs are capable of ensuring these developmentally disabled individuals are receiving the protection and care they most desperately need… New Mexico families who have developmentally disabled adults or children must be confident their loved ones are safe and being cared for properly,” the letter states.

Lujan Grisham’s office offered a statement about the situation.

“The governor has been a lifelong advocate for vulnerable populations and a priority of this administration is to improve the quality of life for these individuals,” Governor’s Office spokeswoman Maddy Hayden said via email Friday. “When the recent cases of abuse and neglect came to light, the Department of Health immediately began a comprehensive internal review to improve quality management of provider agencies, oversight, and monitoring of services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities supported by the state’s Developmental Disabilities Waiver programs. DOH has also contracted with a third party to conduct a thorough external investigation. 

“The state will fully cooperate with the Office of the Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services should they choose to investigate as well. Put simply, we want to use every tool at our disposal to make sure we are doing everything we can to prevent future cases of abuse and neglect of New Mexicans,” the statement continued.