Legislature: Senate Dems blast Human Services chief in proposed no-confidence resolution

Note:  This story is part of a package of news articles about the current session of the New Mexico Legislature that the Quay County Sun has obtained from the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper.

By Patrick Malone
The New Mexican

State Senate Democrats on Tuesday launched a symbolic statement of no confidence targeting Gov. Susana Martinez’s Cabinet secretary overseeing the Human Services Department.

The resolution takes aim at Secretary Sidonie Squier, criticizing her for the department’s decision to stop Medicaid funding to in-state behavioral health care providers while they are being investigated for suspected overbilling.

The attorney general so far has cleared one of the 15 providers of fraud, but found instances of overbilling in an audit. That business, The Counseling Center in Alamogordo, closed in August.

In June, the Human Services Department stopped funding the behavioral health providers. It contracted with Arizona companies to replace them.

“Secretary Squier’s refusal to restore funding pending the outcome of a thorough and complete investigation has effectively dismantled the state’s already fragile behavioral health care system and threatened the well-being of New Mexicans,” says the no-confidence resolution, introduced by Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen.

It goes on to state: “The senate has lost confidence in the secretary of human services’ ability to lead the department and administer the programs critical to the health and well-being of New Mexicans.”

In response to the resolution, Human Services Department spokesman Matt Kennicott said in an email, “This is unfortunate, and blatant, political grandstanding.”

About 20 Senate Democrats have signed on in support of the resolution, but no Republicans have expressed support.

Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa, said he supports the resolution because the behavioral health care providers were denied due process before their funding was frozen, and the treatment of their patients was disrupted.

“I got complaints from individuals that were receiving these services that were just scared to death that they lost their practitioners,” he said. “People that they have confidence in, that they had been working with to try to deal with issues, all of a sudden were no longer there.”

The actions of the Human Services Department were taken in the interest of protecting public funds, Kennicott said.

“We take protecting Medicaid funds very seriously, and believe they should be used to support the most vulnerable New Mexicans,” Kennicott said in the email. “Medicaid funds should not be used to buy private airplanes, CEOs should not get rich off of the Medicaid system, and employees should not be told to overbill as a means of siphoning off additional Medicaid fund for their company. And when those things happen, it takes critical funding away from those who need it most. If Senator Sanchez or anyone else believes otherwise, we certainly disagree.”

The attorney general’s investigation into the alleged overpayments is continuing.

In a parting shot, the Democrats’ resolution jabs Squier for an email message she wrote last year that said, “there has never been and is not now any significant evidence of hunger in N.M.,” a statement she soon backed off by conceding that hungry children do exist in New Mexico.

The Democrats’ resolution chides Squier for her original statement and says it renders her “unsuitable to administer food assistance programs.”

Though fiery, the resolution carries little practical weight. It could not revoke the Senate’s 2011 confirmation of Squier to the Cabinet post.

“It’s symbolic,” Cisneros said. “It’s a statement of lack of confidence, essentially saying, ‘There’s something wrong here, and we need to fix it.’ ”

Contact Patrick Malone at 968-3017 or pmalone@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter @pmalonenm.

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