Why Did the New Mexico Adult Protective Services and the Division of Health Improvements, Wait Until Mary Melero Was on Her Deathbed to Get Her a Guardian?
(The reporting in this story provides more evidence of the story The Candle published last month: “The Unspoken Truth About Mary Melero’s Death: State Officials Really Don’t Care About People Like Her.”)
On April 7, 2023, at 3:09 am, Mary Melero died, after being removed from life support.
She had suffered what Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham described as “horrific abuse.”
Mary was a 38 year-old woman – one of several thousand developmentally disabled New Mexicans who are recipients of services and promised protections from the state of New Mexico.
In May, New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez charged the people who allegedly conspired to neglect, abuse, and false imprison Mary – which likely resulted in Mary’s death.
“The abuse and neglect that she endured was horrific and the injuries she sustained are among the worst I have seen in my career as a prosecutor,” Attorney General Torrez stated at a press conference regarding the filing of charges.
“This was torture. There’s really no other word for it.”
The individuals alleged to have committed the abuse of Mary will be tried in New Mexico’s courts.
But state agency reports of abuse, neglect and exploitation of Mary existed for a period of at least seven years before her death – including information that should have triggered the application to a court for the appointment of a legal guardian for her protection years ago.
It wasn’t until Mary lay unresponsive in a hospital bed in Texas, that on March 3, 2023 a guardian was finally applied for and appointed.
By then, it was too late.
This article is one in a series about the failure by the state’s political leaders and agency leaders to provide care and protect Mary and others like her – agencies that exist to help these New Mexicans live fulfilling lives.
In the court of public opinion, these leaders, whether elected or appointed, need to answer for their neglect of duty and about attempts seemingly made to cover-up their failure.
There are several New Mexico state agencies charged with the responsibility to protect Developmental Disabilty Waiver clients against abuse, neglect, and exploitation.
They include the Department of Health, the Human Services Department, and the Aging and Long-term Services Department (which, through its Adult Protective Services Department – APS – by statute shall “establish a system of protective services and protective placement and to ensure the availability of those services or placement to all adults in need of them.”).
Those agencies failed to do their job resulting in Mary enduring unconscionable abuse and ultimately, ending her life.
While Mary died from complications related to the abuse she suffered earlier this year, agencies failed to act with sufficient oversight and collaboration on reports of abuse, neglect, and exploitation (known as ANE reports) from at least December of 2015, through February 28, 2023.
For at least three of those years, Susana Martinez, a Republican, was the Governor.
For more than four of those years, Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, has been the Governor.
In IPRA Response, Governor Lujan Grisham Makes Partial Release of Documents.
In response to an Inspection of Public Records Act request, reports relative to several incidents of alleged neglect, abuse (including rape) and exploitation, were released to The Candle by the Office of the Governor earlier this year.
The documents were released in two tranches; both were accompanied with its own cover letter from Kyle Duffy, Deputy General Counsel to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. (Scroll to end of this article to read the two cover letters.)
Given the number of ANE reports made, any reasonable review by state officials should have triggered an examination of Mary’s situation, and informed officials of the need to have a guardian appointed to protect and help her live without the fear of being exploited.
The complaints filed were relative to Mary’s living conditions, failure to get to health appointments, access to food, concern that a caregiver is not providing care for all the hours being billed, report of sexual abuse, and financial exploitation, among other matters.
For example, through various emails and reports described as IMB (Incident Management Bureau) Tip Sheets, Client History Reports, and other documentation, The Candle found that in:
December 2015 through January 2016, Concerns were raised in a report regarding neglect and exploitation, where it was reported that Mary had been left alone for at least two nights while her mother was in the hospital; that a paid caretaker was billing for hours not worked, and was not showing up for work when supposed to be there 40 hours a week; and which it was believed the same had been reported to DHI (Division of Health Improvement). A social worker from the Bernalillo Sheriffs office brought a food care package.
March 2016, Concerns of whether Mary and her mother had groceries; there was some food, but it was unknown if they were getting proper nutrition due to medical conditions. Another report of concern that a caregiver may be billing for hours not worked.
Early August 2018, A report is made to Incident Management Bureau and Adult Protective Services regarding Mary and her mother and the potential for ongoing neglect and decline in overall health; their need to get food; could not get access to money to pay their bills; and at least one of them was having trouble finding a way to the doctor. There is mention about getting a guardian. The report “checked the box” that there was concern for the safety of the consumer(s).
Late August 2018, Another report to Incident Management Bureau and Adult Protective Services, regarding hardly any food in the house. Generally Mary and her mother were at risk without proper supports or food supply.
Late August – October, Incident Management Bureau reports indicate that Mary and her mother are staying at the Canyon Transitional Rehab Center until further notice because their home is being condemned. Another reference is made of concern relative to who is in control of Mary’s financial resources. Report of attempt to reach Mary’s Mi Via Consultant being unsuccessful, as the Consultant’s phone has been disconnected.
September 2018, Report to Incident Management Bureau and meeting with Adult Protective Services – It is reported that Mary has limited ability to understand things being communicated to her; reports of family arguments; complaints that nobody was providing services; reported that Mary was unable to be her own Employer of Record, and there are more questions regarding the billing for caregiver hours.
It was also reported that Mary complained of being raped. However, the individuals who essentially controlled most of the daily aspects of her life denied that it happened. That same record indicates that APS would be contacting law enforcement.
The records released by the Governor’s office are silent on what happened after that report.
While those around her claimed there was no rape, in the 2023 affidavit filed for the arrest warrant for the individuals charged in matters related to Mary’s abuse and subsequent death, there is a reference to Mary alleging another instance of sexual abuse.
It should be noted that studies show one in three adults who are developmentally disabled suffer sexual abuse – and that many occurrences go unreported.
In reporting by NPR in 2018, entitled, “The Sexual Assault Epidemic No One Talks About,”, the national news organization released the following:
ABUSED AND BETRAYED: KEY FINDINGS
At a moment of reckoning in the United States about sexual harassment and sexual assault, a yearlong NPR investigation finds that there is little recognition of a group of Americans that is one of the most at risk: people with intellectual disabilities.
- People with intellectual disabilities are sexually assaulted at a rate seven times higher than those without disabilities. That number comes from data run for NPR by the Justice Department from unpublished federal crime data.
- People with intellectual disabilities are at heightened risk at all moments of their daily lives. The NPR data show they are more likely to be assaulted by someone they know and during daytime hours.
- Predators target people with intellectual disabilities because they know they are easily manipulated and will have difficulty testifying later. These crimes go mostly unrecognized, unprosecuted and unpunished. And the abuser is free to abuse again.
- Police and prosecutors are often reluctant to take these cases because they are difficult to win in court.
Late November and Early December 2018, The Division of Health Improvement/IMB receives report on its “hotline” stating that Mary is still a resident at the Canyon Transitional Rehab Center (since August 31, 2018); that Mary needed supported living services; was determined by a physician that she was incompetent; and may be a victim of exploitation of her finances.
Attempts to reach Mary’s Consultant were again unsuccessful.
Upon further investigation, it was determined in May and June of 2019, that the allegations of financial exploitation were substantiated.
From June of 2019 until February 28, 2023, There are no reports included with the records released to The Candle by Governor Lujan Grisham’s office, in response to the IPRA request.
Materials Withheld – Governor Lujan Grisham Claims “Executive Privilege.”
The reports released to The Candle by the office of Governor Lujan Grisham contained information primarily about incidents during the Martinez Administration.
There is clearly a gap among the records released, for a time period of almost four years – all years during the Lujan Grisham Administration – with no reports other than one.
That report was likely produced to The Candle, because it was U.S. Border Control Officers in Texas that discovered Mary stuffed in the back of a van, clearly abused, suffering from sepsis and unresponsive – information not easily withheld given the matter now involved multiple states and federal jurisdictions.
Interestingly, at the time the abuse, neglect, and exploitation reports were released to The Candle, Lujan Grisham’s Deputy General Counsel also wrote, “Please note that executive privilege has been invoked over 10 emails, 2 attachments, and 1 embedded link to an attachment that were otherwise responsive to your request.”
Whatever is contained in those emails and documents is clearly being hidden by the Governor herself, as she is the only one who can exercise the use of executive privilege.
The New Mexico Supreme Court has established that a governor is the only person in state government who can invoke executive privilege, writing in its opinion on such matters, “the privilege’s constitutional foundation requires limiting its invocation to the Governor.”
Despite Governor Lujan Grisham withholding records about her administration, The Candle is in receipt of additional documents from other levels of government that implicate her administration’s failure, among other administrative breakdowns, to act for more than three years in response to requests for information needed for an application for guardianship for Mary.
As reported earlier in this article, when a guardian was finally applied for and appointed for Mary it was too late, she was already dying in an El Paso hospital after having been taken out of New Mexico by alleged abusers.
The Candle will be reporting on the failures in appointing a guardian as well as the incompetence and indifference of highly paid agency administrators at Adult Protective Services and the Department of Health Improvement this week.
Note: For several months, The Candle has asked to interview officials in the Lujan Grisham administration about the case of Mary Melero. We have submitted emailed questions. The administration has been silent other than providing some of the documents requested through numerous Inspection of Public Records Act requests.
While those other agency media folks have refused to answer emailed questions and requests for phone interviews with state officials who are responsible for the systems dealing with abuse, neglect, and exploitation, Attorney General Torrez’s spokesperson has responded to questions from The Candle.
Lauren Rodriguez made it clear that while he is pursuing the criminal case against those accused of the abuse resulting in the death of Mary Melero, the Attorney General continues to review the implementation of existing protective systems that have been in place for years.
Scroll below to read the letters from the Governor’s Deputy General Counsel regarding The Candle’s IPRA requests and the Governor’s decision to withhold documents from the public: