DD Waiver Caregivers’ Much Needed Raises in Jeopardy – As Governor’s Team Appears Clueless.

The people and provider agencies that deliver care to thousands of Developmentally Disabled New Mexicans are once again finding themselves behind the eight ball.

For years, care givers have struggled, being underpaid and understaffed.

And the provider agencies that hire the caregivers have been consistently under-reimbursed due to the state not updating rates for services to Developmental Disabilities Waiver clients .

Starting in July, things were supposed to change for the better.

Sources have informed The Candle that the state has failed to make that happen.

At both of New Mexico’s Health and Human Services Departments, it appears the “lights are on but nobody’s home.”

The Candle learned from sources in the DD Waiver community – parents and guardians of clients, providers, caregivers and advocates – that state agencies failed to pull together the paperwork needed for approval of the increases from the federal government in time for the expected July 1, 2023 implementation.

Both the Department of Health’s (DOH) Developmental Disabilities Support Division (DDSD) and the Human Services Department (HSD) have a role in the process of putting together the case for the increases to the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) – the federal agency that approves spending three federal dollars for each one dollar paid by state revenues.

On Friday of last week The Candle reached out to both DOH and the Governor’s office asking to confirm or deny that the expected rate and salary increases would be delayed.

And this morning The Candle emailed HSD the same request for a response about the status of the expected increases.

There has been no response from either agency, nor from the Governor’s office team.

Earlier today, legislators serving on the interim Legislative Health and Human Services Committee were warned through testimony that the executive branch was not going to deliver the increases on time.

Last week, the acting director of the DDSD, Katrina Hotrum-Lopez (who is also the Governor’s Secretary of Aging and Long-Term Services Department), was asked about the rate increases at a meeting of advocates and providers of services of the DD Waiver community.

She basically kicked the answer down the road and suggested if not provided on time as expected, then they were looking to see if they could make the increases retroactive.

But there are existing constraints on what can be considered to be eligible for being paid retroactively. And given the failure to get the paperwork process right the first time does not inspire confidence in these departments’ ability to argue for retroactive approvals.

Hotrum-Lopez is a pinch-hitter for the Governor in her role as DDSD interim director – and came on board on March 20, 2023.

It is important to remember that she already has a regular FULL-TIME job running another state agency.

The Secretary of DOH, Patrick Allen is new to his job, too.

He came on board in January – filling a position as head of one of the biggest state agencies that had no full-time boss for almost a year and a half.

And the Secretary of HSD, Kari Armijo, is also new to that job – she has been ACTING Secretary since about February. But she has “over two decades” of experience at HSD, according to the Governor.

Despite the fact that she has rookies running these two important agencies and divisions, the Governor has known the legislature and her administration were putting up more than $10 million to provide the rate and salary increases beginning in July.

Back at the beginning of 2023, New Mexico Legislators and the Governor provided budget recommendations for the new fiscal year beginning on July 1, 2023, which included $10.2 million for long overdue rate and wage increases for agencies and people who provide a wide range of services to residents of the state who cannot care for themselves.

As far back as 2019, the Governor insisted that she was going to eliminate the waiting list during her tenure and provide better funding for the programs DD Waiver clients needed.

About a year ago, when Governor Michelle Lujan announced the end of the historic and 35 year old Jackson Lawsuit – which eventually forced the state to provide care for thousands of New Mexicans with intellectual and physical disabilities – she said:

“This issue is one that’s close to my heart. No family should be without the support they need, which is why my administration has focused on fixing the system, including delivering funding to eliminate the waitlist for the Developmental Disabilities Waiver and expanding services. This decision is an affirmation of the importance and success of that work.”

Seems like the Governor may have left her heart (or her focus) in San Francisco – or one of those other cities she has been hopping around to, holding press conferences and raising campaign money over the past year or so.