New Mexico gov to abusive caregivers: ‘We’re coming for you’

March 21, 2023 GMT

Any caregivers who mistreat and abuse developmentally disabled or otherwise vulnerable people will be held accountable, New Mexico’s governor and top health officials warned Monday.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, members of her cabinet and law enforcement officials gathered at the state Capitol to provide an update on ongoing investigations into an alleged abuse and neglect case involving a developmentally disabled person that was brought to the state’s attention March 1.

The case resulted in the state terminating contracts with four providers in the Albuquerque area. It also prompted what the governor described as a forensic review of the entire developmentally disabled waiver system, which is meant to offer an alternative to institutional care.

Five more cases — including three in which individuals being cared for died — are under investigation. Officials said that they haven’t determined if those deaths are tied to abuse or neglect.

Over the weekend, state health workers visited more than 1,000 people who are part of the federally funded waiver program. As a result, another eight potential cases warrant future review, officials said.

“If you’re not providing the care that you were supposed to provide, we will find you and you will be held accountable. That’s it — zero tolerance in the state of New Mexico. We are coming,” Lujan Grisham said during a news conference.

Lujan Grisham, whose sister is developmentally disabled, called the recent cases in New Mexico alarming, and vowed that the state will not tolerate abuse, neglect and exploitation of any vulnerable populations.

Officials with the New Mexico Department of Health have been tight-lipped about the allegations that prompted the initial investigation and the cancellation of the providers’ contracts.

Health Secretary Patrick Allen said Monday that the client involved in the March 1 case suffered life-threatening injuries but didn’t provide further details.

He said that the other instances identified in recent weeks involve neglect such as malnutrition.

Lujan Grisham partly blamed the coronavirus pandemic and strict public health protocols that limited family members and other advocates from visiting patients, for some instances of neglect and abuse going unreported. She said telehealth visits and online wellness checks have been no substitute and the number of referrals for potential abuse or neglect dropped as a result. She suggested that also opened the door for other insidious behavior to go unchecked.

The governor pointed to a recent case in Michigan involving a 71-year-old woman who was born with a spinal deformity that left her unable to care for herself or to communicate. She starved to death in a group home.

Allen said his agency, along with the state’s Aging and Long-Term Services Department, will be working to visit the remaining nearly 5,100 people who are participating in the developmentally disabled waiver program within the next 30 days.

The state also plans to schedule more regular visits going forward and to review entire case files, rather than only what providers submit to Medicaid for reimbursement.

Allen said the reliance on caregivers, limited transportation options, limited access to language interpreters or other assistive devices, and general isolation from the community can put people with disabilities at higher risk.

“Escaping abuse is difficult for any victim, but it’s only compounded when the person abusing you is the one you rely on to help you dress and get out of the house,” he said.

While all of the care givers allegedly involved in the initial March 1 case are no longer are working with clients, no criminal charges have been filed. Authorities stressed Monday that the investigations were ongoing.

One of the providers that had their contract cancelled — an agency that provided residential in-home care for the person — posted a statement on its website saying that it immediately notified state officials after learning of “significant injuries” to one of their clients after a caregiver chose to take that person out of state. They called the case heartbreaking.

The other providers offered case management, behavioral services and physical therapy for the victim. They too have said that they were unaware of the allegations.

Some plan to appeal the state’s decision to cancel their contracts, citing reputations built over many years by serving people with disabilities.


Montoya Bryan reported from Albuquerque, New Mexico.