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Why Thousands of New Mexicans Might Lose Their Therapists

PHOTO:  Hogares is one of the mental health centers affected by the decision to withhold funds.Photo by: Beth Blakeman
PHOTO: Hogares is one of the mental health centers affected by the decision to withhold funds.
Photo by: Beth Blakeman
July 30, 2013

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Mental-health centers that dispense as much as 85 percent of New Mexico's mental health, PTSD and substance abuse services may be locking their doors and going dark, because of claims of suspicion of fraud after an audit. Human Services Secretary Sidonie Squier stopped state and Medicaid funding to 15 providers in June.

Efforts to get that funding restored have failed thus far, and Squier has called on Arizona agencies to take over.

According to State Senator Jerry Ortiz Y Pino, moving control of this number of New Mexico services to Arizona agencies is unprecedented.

"They will be, in my mind, a serious disproportionate power," he said. "So when the individual therapists go to negotiate, they might be told, 'We're only going to pay you $25 an hour: take it or leave it.' And they won't have anything to fall back on. I think that's what's really underlying this. It's an attempt to make sure that the new behavioral health care will be much more profitable for the corporate entities that operate it," Ortiz Y Pino charged.

Governor Susana Martinez has said her administration wants to make sure there is no fraud, waste or abuse taking place. She added that there will be no loss of services to the mentally ill and substance abusers.

Ortiz Y Pino said however it will likely take six to eight weeks for the audit to be completed, and by that time, he believes many of those agencies will be forced to close.

Ortiz Y Pino, who is himself a social worker, pointed to the human cost of withholding funds from the largest mental health care providers across the state.

"I think the Secretary is thinking of bringing in the new management company as if the people being served were automobiles in a car pool," he charged. "It ignores the fact that in behavioral health each client has established a relationship with providers. And you can't just replace that overnight and say, 'Go ahead and continue spilling your guts to them on the same basis you did the previous people. And all is going to be well.'"

Patric Hooper, a California attorney representing eight mental health service providers in New Mexico, filed a motion for an injunction with the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals Monday. He said his clients are asking both the circuit and the district court for the same thing.

"We are contending that we have a right to a hearing to challenge these allegations of fraud before we can have our money suspended any longer and before we can be disparaged in the newspapers."

Hooper hopes to know the decision of the Court of Appeals by next week.

Renee Blake, Public News Service - NM