“This staffing situation must be resolved before our son ends up DEAD!” – Memorial Day Plea of DD Waiver Parent

Despite the promises of the governor and her Department of Health, a DD Waiver client was left unprotected this past holiday weekend and ended up at the emergency room of a local hospital.

Words are relatively cheap.

Especially those of elected and appointed state officials responding to crisis situations that arise due to their collective failure to do the jobs which the public has entrusted to them.

Take these words, for example:

“We are using every tool at our disposal to protect these vulnerable individuals and to make sure that incidents of abuse, neglect, and exploitation do not happen ever again in our state.”

Members of vulnerable communities in New Mexico have learned words like the ones above mean little if not backed up with funding and action.

The quote above was made by New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham in response to the ‘horrific’ abuse of a developmentally disabled New Mexican which ended in her death.

The Governor’s media team wrote in a related press release that the alleged case of extreme abuse and neglect of the DOH client, “…prompted DOH to take a close look at the circumstances surrounding other recent cases, including five incidents of serious neglect and abuse that included malnutrition. In three of these cases, the client has died.

The governor and executives in charge of New Mexico’s protective agencies have been scrambling to visit thousands of clients in its care after these alleged events of abuse, neglect and exploitation were exposed – some of the events believed to have also ended in death.

For years, family members and other advocates of DD Waiver clients have warned the current governor, and her predecessors, and legislators, of the inadequacy of both funding and the availability of a sufficient number of qualified providers and care givers to serve these vulnerable New Mexicans.

But those problems persist and, once the shock of a horrific event has subsided, those clients face the prospects of again being forgotten by budget and policy makers.

“This staffing situation must be resolved before our son ends up DEAD!”

The Candle received a copy of an email sent by a parent of a DD Waiver client to a group home provider, state officials and legislators, regarding a failure to protect his son this weekend.

This past holiday weekend, a resident of a group home providing services for developmental disability waiver clients was rushed to the emergency room of a local hospital due to fear of potential food poisoning.

The group home was apparently understaffed, as the person needing the ER visit was being cared for by a single staff person who also had to care for three other clients of the Department of Health.

All four clients are believed to be members of New Mexico’s Developmentally Disabled Waiver community which is supposedly protected by various components of state government.

On Sunday, the client’s family wrote in an email sent to the group home provider representatives, state officials and legislators requesting an immediate and urgent meeting, “to address our concerns for our severely autistic 28 year old son[‘s] … health and safety.”

According to the email, their son was “transported via ambulance” to a local hospital “out of concern for potential food poisoning.”

The client’s group home was left with insufficient staff, notwithstanding the promises of the governor and her secretaries of the Department of Health (DOH) and the Aging and Long-Term Services Department (ALTSD), who stated the following on March 20, 2023,

“We are shifting the focus of oversight from paper and process reviews to client-centered quality of care,” said ALTSD Secretary Katrina Hotrum-Lopez. “This shift will allow us to focus more directly on protecting clients from abuse and neglect as well as reviewing the quality of investigations, complaint resolutions and ensuring timeliness of response. It is not okay for us to do the minimum; our vulnerable populations deserve more.”

The email from the parent went on, “

“There was only ONE staff member on duty … at the time! And it was the Service Coordinator! She could not be expected to chase after our son and neglect his housemates.

“He is not being adequately supervised at that staffing level!

“This staffing situation must be resolved before our son ends up DEAD!

“Please be sure to invite the DDSD Acting Division Director Katrina Hotrum-Lopez. It may require action at her level to implement the support level he is documented to require but never has had.

“It may not have been captured in the recent emergency welfare visits, but there is a systemic, passive neglect of our son (and others no doubt) preventing him from getting necessary services.”

These types of concerns about staffing have been expressed by advocates for years, including the past four years.

During the legislative session this past winter, advocates testified about the connection of poor care, abuse and neglect, to the need for long overdue increases of funding for rates for the DD Waiver programs for adequate staffing and retention of care givers.

New Mexico Attorney General Calls for Reforms.

Less than two weeks ago, New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez filed criminal charges against three caregivers alleging they were involved in varying degrees in the abuse and death of DOH DD Waiver client Mary Melero, who resided in Rio Rancho.

In a press conference of his own, General Torrez outlined needed changes amidst the failure of the state to provide sufficient protective staff, stating, “The Department of Health should have enough specially trained inspectors to conduct regular, in-person wellness checks for every individual with disabilities enrolled in the program.”

While the AG provided examples of what the state needs to protect clients in its care, it is the responsibility of the governor and legislators to provide the resources and policy.

A reliable source has also shared with The Candle that the Attorney General has received an official complaint from the parent of the DD Waiver client referred to in this reporting. The complaint seeks an investigation for the failure to provide sufficient care and staffing.

More on the complaint filed with the AG tomorrow.