Upcoming: A Close Look at How New Mexico State Government Systemically Walked Away From Meaningful Care for the Developmentally Disabled Community

On Sunday, The Candle will release the first in a new series on how New Mexico’s state government has systemically failed people who rely on the department of health for services for the developmentally disabled.

The problems go back decades, and despite promises from the current administration to do a better job, the experiences of clients, providers and caregivers, supported by a public record, provide witness to continued failure.

Up to recently, the efforts of the Lujan Grisham staff has been one of government by press release promises – announcements of ending waiting lists and longstanding litigation regarding abuse, neglect, and exploitation and under-funding of state programs for the disabled – but the execution of policy, planning, and assignment of resources is, at best, anemic.

Last March, two days after the legislature ended its annual session, the Governor held a press conference which revealed, in her words, a “horrific case of abuse.” It also focused a spotlight on what could be described as indifference by agency leadership in budgeting for, and auditing of, services and service providers to some of the state’s most vulnerable people.

The event she referred to was the abuse of the department of health’s developmentally disabled client, Mary Melero, by someone the state approved as her caregiver.

The abuse is alleged to have led to the ending of Mary Melero’s life.

New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez, after conducting an investigation of the abuse, released the following statement:

“The victim, Mary Melero, was discovered by Customs and Border Patrol agents in the rear seat of a white passenger van on February 27, 2023 when defendants attempted to take her to Mexico to receive medical treatment. Severely dehydrated and drugged, Melero had numerous open wounds, including chronic bedsores with exposed bone, bruises and lacerations on various parts of her body, and ligature marks consistent with prolonged restraint. Unable to speak when discovered by federal agents, she was transported to University Medical Center in El Paso, Texas where she died on April 7, 2023.”

“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,” said Attorney General Torrez. “This was torture. There’s really no other word for it.” 

Attorney General Torrez continued:

“We have a moral obligation to speak up for the most vulnerable members of our society and I urge the Governor and the legislature to take immediate action to overhaul the health and safety protocols at the Department of Health to ensure that this never happens again,” Torrez said. “Private contractors can’t be counted on to police themselves. 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,.”

The Attorney General urged a number of essential reforms to the administration of the DD Waiver Program including: 

  1. Increased staff and training for in-person inspections.
  2. Mandatory health and safety inspections every 90 days.
  3. Mandatory referrals to law enforcement for any substantiated case of abuse, neglect, or exploitation.
  4. Raising public awareness for reporting potential abuse and neglect.
  5. New civil and criminal penalties for companies and providers. 

The Candle will be reporting on the neglect of policymakers to address the problems that have been in plain sight for years – including an analysis of the budget choices made by current state officials who have had billions of dollars in extra revenue available to them since 2019 – choices that have favored the entertainment industry and other corporate welfare over the needs of residents who are vulnerable and who have been relegated to second class status.

But first, The Candle will publish, immediately following this posting, a copy of the Department of Health’s press release regarding a report it received from a consultant about deficiencies and failures of the state policies towards developmentally disabled clients.