Botched behavioral health response hurts New Mexico

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The Department of Health and Human Services’ flawed response to the recent behavioral health audit is unnecessarily hurting New Mexico.
From what we know, HHS was undoubtedly faced with a difficult situation when an audit revealed that tens of millions of taxpayer dollars were found to be wasted, and possibly embezzled, by behavioral health contractors throughout New Mexico.
This is a serious issue and it is absolutely critical that our state officials work to both prevent and punish the waste, fraud and abuse of public funds. But it is also important that our leaders do this in a way that places the health and continued care of innocent New Mexicans as a top priority.
Recent decisions by HHS have endangered the status of critical services for those battling mental illness and needlessly placed a large number of individuals and communities at risk.
The most detrimental decision made by HHS was initially to respond to the findings about the fraudulent actions of certain contractors by freezing funding to all behavioral health care providers in the state, including those not implicated in the serious charges of waste, fraud and abuse.
This means that good contractors, who do right by state rules, regulations and taxpayers, are being unnecessarily punished. And so are their patients, who now suffer from a lack of access to care.
Instead of developing a plan to work with good contractors while punishing and reforming those providers found guilty of fraud, HHS chose to bring in out-of-state providers from Arizona. This approach is not only depriving communities of the continuity of critical care, but also depriving them of critical jobs.
This fiasco could have been avoided. Basic cooperation between HHS, and the offices of the attorney general and state auditor could have facilitated a more targeted crack down on the violators exposed in the audit.
While significant damage has been done, there is still time to lead. I call on the Martinez administration to continue funding New Mexico providers who have not committed waste, fraud or abuse of public funds until a case-by-case review has been conducted to assess each organization.
Violators should be prosecuted to the fullest extent, but let’s also give New Mexican providers a chance to step in before outsourcing to Arizona.
We owe it to the people of New Mexico and the families and communities affected by mental health challenges to find a better solution.
-Tim Keller