A year After Mary Melero Suffered a Horrific Death, and The DD Waiver Community Continues to be Abandoned by Many State Officials


This is the first in a trio Editorials regarding the New Mexico Developmental Disabilities Supports Division. For more than a year, The Candle has researched documents and interviewed scores of individuals regarding the persistent problems negatively impacting vulnerable New Mexicans who need the support of the DD Waiver system. Today’s editorial focuses on the leadership of the executive branch and its continued indifference to addressing the problems. The second and third editorial will focus on the agency structure that provides services and then the legislative response to DD Waiver program needs.

Mary Melero died in early April of last year – about a month after suffering severe abuse, allegedly from her caretakers.

Mary was a 38-year-old woman with developmental disabilities, under the care of state agencies which failed to protect her.

Other than Attorney General Raúl Torrez, who is prosecuting the case against Mary Melero’s alleged abusers, as well as having issued a list of policy and staffing changes he felt the state needed to initiate to begin addressing abuse, neglect and exploitation, most state officials continue to ignore the crisis facing New Mexico’s Developmentally Disabled Waiver clients.

A month prior to Mary’s death, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham held a big press conference to announce the “horrific abuse” suffered by a developmentally disabled New Mexican, and true to form, blamed every one she could to deflect attention from her administration’s failure to protect a vulnerable person under state care.

She never mentioned Mary by name during that press conference.

And it is hard to find any place where the Governor has publicly referred to Mary by her name.

Two months later, on May 18, 2023, the day Attorney General Torrez announced charges he was bringing against Mary’s alleged abusers – abuse that likely was ultimately the cause of Mary’s death, the Governor provided the following statement :

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham on Thursday issued a statement following the arrests of three individuals involved in an extreme case of abuse and neglect that resulted in the death of a 38-year-old woman with disabilities. The woman was served by providers through a state-run program.

“Today, I applaud Attorney General Raúl Torrez and law enforcement for their quick action and coordination that led to this first step toward justice for the victim. As I have said before, abuse by those responsible for caring for the most vulnerable among us will not stand. Every New Mexican deserves to live with dignity, respect, safety, and a high quality of life, and anyone who infringes upon those rights will be held to full account.”

Again, not once in the press release, does the Governor mention Mary’s name.

That same day, Lujan Grisham’s Secretary of the Department of Health, Patrick Allen, issued a 728 word press release about the indictments brought against the abusers.

He failed to show Mary the dignity of mentioning her name.

“Many thanks to all of the law enforcement agencies for their due diligence and strong attention to this shocking case of abuse and neglect that we turned over to them,” said Patrick Allen in the press release.

Allen failed to clarify that the “shocking case of abuse and neglect” that he turned over to the Attorney General was a result of the institutional neglect of the agency he and the Governor are responsible for.

It is more likely than not, that the omission of Mary’s name was deliberate on the part of the highly paid communications teams employed by the Governor and the Department of Health.

As The Candle has reported over the past year, if their Department of Health and Adult Protective Services agency had done their jobs, Mary Melero likely would be alive today.

So what has been done in the year since Mary’s death?

Not much actually. Certainly not enough.

The Governor appointed her friend and old agency buddy, Katrina Hotrum-Lopez to “lead an internal investigation of the DDSD and DHI to improve internal processes around abuse and neglect”.

What the Governor did NOT announce then was the fact that it was Katrina Hotrum-Lopez who at the time of Mary’s abuse was the Secretary of the agency in charge of Adult Protective Services, which failed Mary and so many others for years.

Katrina Hotrum-Lopez likely was really appointed to provide political cover for the Governor and her administration.

After just about three months of managing the optics, the Governor appointed a new guy to head the Developmental Disabilities Support Division – Dr. José A. Acosta.

According to a press release in June of last year, Acosta stated, “I am committed to implementing comprehensive, robust safeguards that protect the welfare and rights of individuals with developmental disabilities. Together, we will continue to build a future where every person we support can live a fulfilling life with dignity and respect.”

Acosta also stated, “I am humbled and deeply honored by the opportunity to serve as the director of the Developmental Disabilities Support Division. I am fully aware of the recent challenges we have faced and the urgent need to rebuild trust within our community.

His appointment amounted to no relief to the DD Waiver community.

He was anything but humble.

He was patronizing to parents, clients and providers.

At the few Zoom meetings of advocates for the DD Waiver clients, that Acosta attended, he lectured dozens of experienced people, despite knowing very little himself about the DD Waiver system or about the needs of the people he was supposed to serve.

And he arrogantly defended the agency’s failure to seriously address the problems that led to Mary and others being victims of abuse.

Then, Acosta was gone.

On March 7, 2024, barely nine months after getting the job, Secretary Allen promoted Acosta out of the Developmental Disabilities Support Division to be Director for the Public Health Division of the state health agency.

(Interestingly, while the DOH website has a press release about his new job, it no longer lists the press release regarding Acosta’s appointment as DDSD Director.)

So much for Acosta’s commitment “to implementing comprehensive, robust safeguards that protect the welfare and rights of individuals with developmental disabilities. Together, we will continue to build a future where every person we support can live a fulfilling life with dignity and respect.”

The Governor and her executive leadership team are counting on the problems that led to Mary Melero’s abuse and death, and the state government’s failure to provide meaningful reforms, to slip from the memory of the public.

In the next editorial, The Candle will review what the day to day agency response of the Developmental Disabilities Supports Division, the Human Services Department and the Protective Services agencies charged with serving and protecting DD Waiver clients.

At the end of the week The Candle will report on what the Legislature has done, and what it has failed to do, for the Developmental Disabilities Waiver Community.