Bryant Furlow/New Mexico In Depth
TeamBuilders Counseling Services, a health organization that focuses largely on services to youths, may have stopped taking at least some new clients in need of counseling and other services in recent weeks as it prepares to shut down.
If that’s true, it may mean, for example, that children and teens needing counseling are having a harder time finding it, and that agencies trying to get youths into specialized treatment foster care are finding it difficult.
New Mexico In Depth can’t say with certainty all of this is happening or not, however, due to conflicting reports and officials from state agencies, TeamBuilders, and OptumHealth who aren’t answering questions.
Late last month, a spokeswoman for OptumHealth, which manages the state’s Medicaid payments to behavioral health providers, told us the company stopped referring people in need of care to TeamBuilders. But the spokesperson, Melanie Christopher, wouldn’t answer questions about how that decision might affect those in need of such services.
In addition to accepting referrals from OptumHealth, TeamBuilders would also routinely take referrals from state agencies such as the Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD). But a TeamBuilders employee in Santa Rosa told The Guadalupe Communicator late last month that TeamBuilders was no longer accepting referrals from state agencies such as CYFD and juvenile probation offices. Rita Hern, a family services program coordinator with TeamBuilders, said that would have an impact because such agencies “use us a lot as a safety net in Santa Rosa for families in crisis.”
Later, several TeamBuilders employees, including Hern, stopped returning our phone calls, as did TeamBuilders’ CEO, Shannon Freedle.
So NMID went to state officials for answers. Human Services Department and CYFD spokesmen didn’t respond to our questions for days. When they did answer, their statements made it sound as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening.
Referrals “continue to be made directly to (TeamBuilders’) offices across the state,” Henry Varela, CYFD spokesman, said. “Currently, CYFD staff has not reported any problems with referrals to any providers including TeamBuilders.”
Given what Hern and Christopher had said, Varela’s use of “currently” and “continue to be made” seemed to be an ambiguous way to answer our simple yes or no question: Had disruptions occurred or not? So NMID asked Varela and HSD spokesman Matt Kennicott to clarify. Had such disruptions happened, NMID asked? So far, Varela and Kennicott have not clarified their answers with a simple yes or no or answered other questions.
One of the largest organizations in NM
TeamBuilders is one of New Mexico’s largest behavioral health organizations. In some parts of the state, its clinics are the only providers of local behavioral health services.
It’s shutting down because the Martinez administration decided to freeze Medicaid funding to it and 14 other organizations in June after an audit found problems including overbilling and potential fraud and asked the attorney general to investigate.
Reporting on a portion of the audit that has thus far been withheld from other news organizations, including NMID, the Albuquerque Journal said the audit found that TeamBuilders was leasing buildings owned by Freedle, his wife, and other TeamBuilders officers. The organization, the Journal quoted the audit as saying, built “a sizable real estate portfolio for its officers.”
Whatever is happening with TeamBuilders referrals, the situation is about to change. Arizona’s Agave Health is taking over TeamBuilders services in Santa Fe, Taos, Espanola, Las Vegas and Santa Rosa on Aug. 19. Agave CEO Jeff Jorde told us his managers have sought training and licensure from CYFD so they can accept foster care and other referrals as soon as possible after Aug. 19.
Arizona providers are also taking over for TeamBuilders in other New Mexico cities later this month.