NM visited Arizona providers before health audit

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico officials visited at least one Arizona company that took over mental health services in the state before an audit into the New Mexico nonprofits that previously provided those services even began, according to a representative from the audit company.

Lawmakers heard those claims this week during a Behavioral Health Legislative subcommittee hearing in Las Cruces, and some said the remarks contradicted what they were previously told, KUNM-FM reported (http://bit.ly/17RR5ql ).

The New Mexico Human Services Department in June froze payments to 15 nonprofits that provide mental health and substance abuse services in the state after an audit found what the agency said was a high rate of billing problems and possible mismanagement.

The audit was performed by the Boston-based Public Consulting Group.

Some of the 15 nonprofits are being transitioned to management by Arizona companies, a move that has sparked anger from providers and their advocates. Others have even gone out of business.

During the hearing, Public Consulting Group manger Thomas Aldridge told lawmakers that he traveled with members of Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration to tour one of the Arizona firms later paid to take over New Mexico nonprofits prior to the start of audit.

“It happened before the audit even began. …It was an hour-long meeting,” Aldridge said. His comments drew grasp from some at the hearing.

Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, a committee member, said the news “completely turns upside-down” the scenario that state Human Services Department officials gave lawmakers.

“They keep saying that the audit confirmed their worst fears, and they had no choice but to go to Arizona providers for help,” said Ortiz y Pino, an Albuquerque Democrat. “It turns out, that’s not the whole story.”

Human Services spokesman Matt Kennicott said the Public Consulting Group was recommended to New Mexico by federal mental health authorities as an outside consultant with wide expertise in this area.

Kennicott said the Public Consulting Group was hired after a company under contract with the state to oversee its managed care system for behavioral health found “widespread abuse and claims of mismanagement in New Mexico’s behavioral health care system, which led to the Human Services Department, in consultation with the AG, (to conduct) an independent audit to study, verify and expand upon those findings.”

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Information from: KUNM-FM, http://kunm.unm.edu/

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