On March, 20, 2023, two days after the New Mexico Legislature adjourned for the year, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham held a press conference describing as horrific, the abuse of clients of the state’s Developmental Disability Waiver Support Programs.
During the press conference the Governor revealed her administration became aware of the abuse on March 1, 2023, yet she waited almost three weeks before she called together agency heads for a press conference to discuss details of abuse and three deaths that her administration had not revealed to lawmakers and the public.
Had lawmakers received more information prior to their adjournment at noon on Saturday March 18, 2023, they would have had an opportunity to take emergency action which could have included making an appropriation to conduct an independent investigation with bipartisan support and which was not under the influence of the executive branch – in other words, an investigation where the Governor or her administration did not control the narrative.
While some information was made available on March 10, 2023, several legislators of both parties have indicated the Governor did not share how bad the situation was until after they wrapped up business last Saturday.
It is also significant that the administration waited what appears to be more than a week before it shared any information of the tragic events.
In response to emailed questions from The Candle to all New Mexico Legislators regarding the allegations of abuse of Clients of the DD Waiver program, Matt Garcia-Sierra, Communications Director for the New Mexico House Republican Leadership, provided the following statement:
“The recent allegations concerning New Mexico’s DD waiver program are serious and concerning. As more information comes in, it is becoming clear that we must have an independent investigation on not just the allegations of extreme abuse and neglect, but on the likely misuse of state and federal funding. New Mexicans will not tolerate the mistreatment and abuse of our most vulnerable population, nor will they tolerate an investigation that is not truly independent of the New Mexico Department of Health.“
Garcia-Sierra wrote that to the best of his knowledge, “lawmakers from both sides of the aisle were not properly notified about this crisis. I believe if there had been better communication, certainly lawmakers would have considered taking immediate action such as allocating resources to investigate or attempted to remediate potential lapses in statute that led to these deeply saddening allegations.”
According to the Communications Director, the “House GOP is looking into options for calling for an independent investigation, including engaging with the federal government as DD waiver is partially funded by federal tax dollars.”
The Candle also spoke with House Speaker Javier Martinez, and left a voicemail message for Senate President Pro Tempore Mimi Stewart on Wednesday afternoon.
Martinez stated he was not really aware of details that the Governor released for the first time publicly at her Monday morning press conference – which was two days after the House and Senate adjourned sine die – until after the Governor’s press conference.
Senate President Pro Tempore Stewart has not provided any response to the questions we left on her voicemail.
A handful of other legislators, of both parties, were reached by The Candle this week, and they expressed surprise at the release of the information after the session had expired.
Democratic Leaders Still Quiet on Investigation That Would Be Independent from Executive Branch Influence.
The Candle followed up with a text to the Speaker informing him of the House GOP statement calling for a truly independent investigation.
He was asked if the House Democratic Leadership would support having the Legislative Council Service engage outside counsel chosen in a bipartisan manner to conduct an investigation independent of influence exercised by the executive branch.
As of this updated posting, the Speaker has not provided a response to The Candle’s query.
Those observations by legislators align with The Candle’s experience in receiving answers to questions asked of the Governor’s and the Department of Health’s public information officers regarding the abuse of DD Waiver clients.
Since March 12, 2023, The Candle has sent a series of questions, and left voice messages, seeking comment from Jodi McGinnis Porter, the spokesperson at the DOH, and Maddy Hayden, the Governor’s communications director.
The only response McGinnis Porter provided was to a phone call on Sunday, March 12, 2023, but she would not discuss the matter she said because it was Sunday and it could wait until the next day.
She told The Candle to call her for answers to our questions on Monday.
We sent her an email with questions that afternoon; and called her, as she directed, on Monday.
McGinnis Porter refused to answer the questions or provide any statement to The Candle.
Governor Continues Silence on Why it Took Almost Three Weeks Before She Held a Press Conference on the DD Waiver Abuse Case.
Maddy Hayden, the Governor’s most recent spokesperson, has refused to answer The Candle’s question as to why it took the Governor almost three weeks before she had anything to share with the public about the “horrific” problems she described on March 20, 2023?
And Hayden continues to ignore questions from The Candle about why the Governor waited until after the Legislature adjourned for the year before she held her press conference revealing information that had apparently not been shared with legislators during the session when they could have taken emergency action directing that an independent investigation of the events and the failures at DOH involving the abuse of vulnerable clients in the state’s care.
This story will continue to be updated over the next several hours. – Last Updated Thursday, 3/23/23 (2:42 PM MT)