Did Forgotten Campaign Promises lead to Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of DD Waiver Clients?

In the fall of 2018, Gubernatorial candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham was aware of the dearth of services available for thousands of developmentally disabled New Mexicans.

In a campaign document entitled, “A Healthcare System that Works for All New Mexicans,” she wrote,

“When I become Governor, I will take immediate steps to design and implement a healthcare system that is more ​accessible, delivers high quality care, ​​​lowers consumer costs​​, and ​improves the health​​ of New Mexicans.”

Lujan Grisham also said she had a plan to prioritize policies that would meet the needs of New Mexico’s most vulnerable populations, and one of the efforts would be to,

“Build system capacity to provide services to 4,500 people with developmental disabilities and their families, who currently have to wait more than a decade to receive services through the Developmental Disabilities (DD) waiver program, and seek a supports services waiver to help provide some temporary relief to families on the waiting list.”

It was a campaign promise.

That was then … more than four years later, serious problems, including abuse, continue.

Systemic failures of state agencies likely enabled abuse, neglect, and/or exploitation of some of the most vulnerable residents who are in the care of the state of New Mexico.

Earlier this year, Mary Melero, a client of the state’s Developmental Disability Waiver Program, lost her life, likely, from abuse that the Governor herself described as “horrific.”

New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez, said of the abuse Mary endured: “the injuries she sustained are among the worst I have seen in my career as a prosecutor. This was torture. There’s really no other word for it.” 

On March 20, 2023, the Governor held a press conference, announcing that she was ordering an “internal investigation of the DDSD and DHI to improve internal processes around abuse and neglect.”

On July 26, 2023, New Mexico Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Patrick Allen and the newly appointed director of the Developmental Disabilities Supports Division (DDSD), Dr. José Acosta, held a press conference and released a press statement regarding what they described as a “comprehensive report on the Developmental Disabilities Waiver Program that was written by consulting firms German Burnette & Associates and Accenture.”

The report from Accenture opens with the following paragraph in the executive summary,

Recent and historic incidents of abuse, neglect, and exploitation of persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in the 1915(c) Developmental Disabili7es Waiver and 1915(c) Mi Via Waiver programs, drove the need to identify the systemic failures and deficiencies that contributed to these events, and that may also have enabled such abuse, neglect, or exploitation to go undetected by DDSD and ultimately, DOH.”

The report can be linked to by clicking here; but plainly speaking, and significantly, the DDSD failed to provide adequate crisis management services and was unable to evaluate the risks to persons the agency is supposed to protect.

Governor Lujan Grisham and DOH Withholding Documents.

The failed execution of DOH policy identified by Accenture, is likely the tip of the iceberg.

The Candle has reason to believe the DOH and the Office of the Governor are holding back on significantly more damaging information related to the state’s failure to protect DD Waiver clients such as Mary Melero.

Since March, The Candle has submitted numerous Inspection of Public Records Act requests to the Department of Health and the Office of The Governor seeking public documents and communications that relate to abuse, neglect and exploitation matters since 2018.

DOH has provided some documents requested, as has the Office of The Governor.

But both entities have withheld documents, with the DOH delaying over and over again on some key documents, and the Governor herself, invoking executive privilege and refusing to turn over documents in at least 13 instances.

In another IPRA request, The Candle requested communications and memos of DOH employees regarding any services that its employees and contractors have related to a company named Columbus Medical Services, LLC and also known as part of The Columbus Group.

The Candle also requested copies of contracts and proposals for services between the Department of Health and Columbus.

DOH did provide copies of some of the contracts, but a review of information on the New Mexico Sunshine Portal, indicates the state is withholding as many as four additional contracts or continuing amendments.

As it relates to the communications and memos, the DOH wrote, “the Department has reviewed its files and has determined there are no responsive documents.”

The Candle further researched and found the DOH’s claim of it having no responsive documents to be false.

A deep dive into documents in the possession of The Candle that were provided in response to another IPRA request provide evidence that DOH appears to be withholding information which may further reveal its failure to act appropriately on reports of abuse, neglect and exploitation.

In the next segments The Candle will report on those documents it has received relative to abuse, neglect and exploitation of DD Waiver clients and the system and money spent by the state with outside consultants for investigations of reported abuse.

And in a separate article, The Candle will explore how the failure by Governor Lujan Grisham to appoint a permanent Secretary of Health for almost eighteen months (essentially for 35% of her first term of office) during the COVID 19 pandemic, likely negatively impacted the DD Waiver community and others.