Behavioral health shakeup prompts another call for HSD head’s resignation

After testimony from officials from three nonprofits that provided behavioral health services which were targeted with fraud allegations but later cleared by the Attorney General,a second New Mexico lawmaker called for state Human Services Department Secretary Brent Earnest to resign. “This is just morally repugnant behavior that this administration, this department, has done,” state Rep. […]

Behavioral health shakeup prompts another call for HSD head’s resignation

After testimony from officials from three nonprofits that provided behavioral health services which were targeted with fraud allegations but later cleared by the Attorney General,a second New Mexico lawmaker called for state Human Services Department Secretary Brent Earnest to resign.

Human Services Department Secretary Brent Earnest
Human Services Department Secretary Brent Earnest

“This is just morally repugnant behavior that this administration, this department, has done,” state Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, said Wednesday at an interim Legislative Health and Human Services Committee meeting. “It’s criminal and obscene.”

Trujillo and eight other state lawmakers listened to the heads of three of the 15 behavioral health organizations that were infamously accused of “credible allegations of fraud” in 2013 by HSD’s then-Secretary Sidonie Squier.

The department cited an audit from Boston-based Public Consulting Group that found $34 million in Medicaid fraud between the 15 providers. Squier cut off Medicaid funding from the providers, but the Attorney General’s Office has since cleared all from any wrongdoing.

Now, many of these providers—most of which shut their doors after the Medicaid freeze—are going through “fair hearings” with HSD to resolve the alleged overpayments. In the meantime, five firms from Arizona took over providing behavioral health services. Three of those Arizona firms have already left the state.

Patsy Romero, CEO of Easter Seals El Mirador, one of the nonprofits, choked up when she spoke at the hearing of the patients she said aren’t being served because of the shakeup. She mentioned hearing about two youths who her organization served recently committing suicide.

“What happened to the 30,000 lives that were totally displaced by this?” Romero told lawmakers.

Trujillo called the actions “criminal behavior.”

At one point in the hearing, she turned to state Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, who in May called for Earnest’s resignation amid a different scandal involving food stamps that has been recently rocking the department.

“I would love to join you in asking for his resignation again and for criminal charges to be pressed,” Trujillo told Ortiz y Pino. “This isn’t human error anymore. This is actually criminal behavior. And so many people have been asked to pay the price for venial sins.”

Critics have said the audit on which HSD based its “credible allegations of fraud” findings was unreliable. Public Consulting Group extrapolated from samples of $42,500 in Medicaid overbilling and came up with the $34 million figure.

Attorney General Hector Balderas cleared 13 of the providers earlier this year. Former Attorney General Gary King cleared the other two providers while he was in office.

Clearing the providers of wrongdoing opened the providers up to a “fair hearing” process with HSD to resolve the overbilling issues. HSD officials have stood by the department’s 2013 action to cut Medicaid funding from the providers and said they would seek to collect all overbilled Medicaid funds.

Romero and Nancy Jo Archer, executive director of Hogares, both told lawmakers that they had recently concluded their fair hearings. Both criticized the process.

“In our experience, a fair hearing is an unfair process,” Romero said. “HSD acts as auditor, judge and jury.”

Romero said the fair hearing concluded that Easter Seals owes $127,000 from Medicaid overbilling, the vast majority of which she said was extrapolated from actual findings.

Archer said her organization’s fair hearing with HSD concluded that Hogares owes $3.1 million from Medicaid overbilling, which she said was extrapolated from $2,500 in actual findings.

Shannon Freedle, CEO of Teambuilders, said HSD is currently claiming his organization’s Medicaid overpayments amount to $2.2 million. That number was extrapolated from less than $750 in actual overbilling findings, he said.

Freedle is set to begin his hearing with HSD next week. Both Romero and Archer have appealed their hearing conclusions in Santa Fe district court.

All contended that their organizations’ Medicaid overbilling issues amount to common errors and that HSD didn’t give them due process.

“We were within the national expected margin of error of 6 to 9 percent,” Freedle said.

We're ad free

That means that we rely on support from readers like you. Help us keep reporting on the most important New Mexico Stories by donating today.

Related

Both Republicans and Democrats skeptical of guv’s proposals for special session

Both Republicans and Democrats skeptical of guv’s proposals for special session

A representative from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office outlined on Thursday the bills the governor’s office will back during the upcoming special session, but…
Senators throw support to embattled Ivey-Soto

Senators throw support to embattled Ivey-Soto

By Justin Horwath, New Mexico In Dept Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto is running for a fourth term despite the state Democratic Party’s decision to censure…
AG announces legislative priorities for upcoming special session

AG announces legislative priorities for upcoming special session

Attorney General Raúl Torrez announced on Thursday his legislative priorities for July’s special legislative session, including the creation of a crime victim’s unit to…
PNM seeks rate increase

PNM seeks rate increase

Customers of New Mexico’s largest electric utility may pay more for energy in the future. The Public Service Company of New Mexico filed an…
DOE announces funding to help bring technologies to market

DOE announces funding to help bring technologies to market

National laboratories across the country, including Sandia National Laboratories, will use millions of dollars in federal funding to spur the deployment of projects related…
LANL plans to release highly radioactive tritium to prevent explosions. Will it just release danger in the air?

LANL plans to release highly radioactive tritium to prevent explosions. Will it just release danger in the air?

By Alicia Inez Guzmán, Searchlight New Mexico Last fall, the international community rose up in defense of the Pacific Ocean. Seafood and salt purveyors,…
Stansbury outlines funding secured for early childhood and youth services programs

Stansbury outlines funding secured for early childhood and youth services programs

U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury secured $8.3 million for childhood development and youth services in the 1st congressional district through federal community project funding. Stansbury,…
Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican The main things that bring Brayan Chavez to school every day: Seeing, talking to and engaging with…
Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican Brittany Behenna Griffith has a laundry list of adjectives to describe the ideal special education teacher:…
Heinrich questions FDA leadership on baby formula safety, mifepristone

Heinrich questions FDA leadership on baby formula safety, mifepristone

U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf answered questions about the safety of human milk formula and mifepristone on Wednesday. Sen. Martin…
Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Amy Maxmen, KFF Health News Four years after hospitals in New York City overflowed with covid-19 patients, emergency physician Sonya Stokes remains shaken by…
Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Friday $10 million in funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act was awarded to six tribal nations and…
Abortion medication access remains after Supreme Court ruling

Abortion medication access remains after Supreme Court ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Texas-based Christian group trying to restrict access to abortion medication on Thursday. The case, FDA v. the…
How abortion care has changed since Dobbs 

How abortion care has changed since Dobbs 

In the month of March 2024 alone, 1,650 clinician-provided abortions took place in New Mexico, according to the reproductive research organization, the Guttmacher Institute.…
Many Democrats endorsed by reproductive rights group won primaries

Many Democrats endorsed by reproductive rights group won primaries

With nearly 53 percent of the precincts reporting as of 11 p.m. Tuesday, most of the legislative candidates endorsed by Planned Parenthood Votes New…
New Mexico food banks say food insecurity is on the rise

New Mexico food banks say food insecurity is on the rise

Food insecurity is on the rise as state benefits have decreased and the future of federal benefits have an uncertain future.  Sonya Warwick, director…
Abortion medication access remains after Supreme Court ruling

Abortion medication access remains after Supreme Court ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Texas-based Christian group trying to restrict access to abortion medication on Thursday. The case, FDA v. the…
How abortion care has changed since Dobbs 

How abortion care has changed since Dobbs 

In the month of March 2024 alone, 1,650 clinician-provided abortions took place in New Mexico, according to the reproductive research organization, the Guttmacher Institute.…
Post-primary, Biden leads Trump in NM

Post-primary, Biden leads Trump in NM

President Joe Biden leads former president Donald Trump in the race for New Mexico’s five electoral seats, according to a poll commissioned by NM…
Democrats announce spending on CD2 race

Democrats announce spending on CD2 race

The Democratic National Committee announced on Monday that it will spend $70,000 for organizing staff to aid U.S. Rep. Gabe Vasquez, the Democrat trying…
Handful of legislators lose primaries

Handful of legislators lose primaries

Every legislative seat is up for grabs in 2024, which means all incumbents who sought reelection had to face the voters. Most did not…
Post-primary, Biden leads Trump in NM

Post-primary, Biden leads Trump in NM

President Joe Biden leads former president Donald Trump in the race for New Mexico’s five electoral seats, according to a poll commissioned by NM…
New Mexico food banks say food insecurity is on the rise

New Mexico food banks say food insecurity is on the rise

Food insecurity is on the rise as state benefits have decreased and the future of federal benefits have an uncertain future.  Sonya Warwick, director…
Abortion medication access remains after Supreme Court ruling

Abortion medication access remains after Supreme Court ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Texas-based Christian group trying to restrict access to abortion medication on Thursday. The case, FDA v. the…

GET INVOLVED

© 2023 New Mexico Political Report