Robin Zielinski/Las Cruces Sun-News
Two news organizations are asking the N.M. Court of Appeals to overturn a ruling allowing last year’s audit of 15 health organizations to remain secret.
New Mexico In Depth and the Las Cruces Sun-News filed the appeal Tuesday. The news outlets contend that the audit should be released so the public can better understand actions that pushed the state’s behavioral health system into a chaotic transition. The N.M. Human Services Department (HSD) used the audit to justify suspending funding to the health organizations and bringing in Arizona firms to replace them.
“The fight to get information released to the public is important to the Sun-News and to the people of New Mexico, and we are determined to continue waging it,” said Sylvia Ulloa, the Sun-News’ managing editor.
The Sun-News and NMID are asking the appellate court to overturn District Judge Douglas R. Drigger’s August ruling allowing HSD to keep the audit hidden from the public.
Human Services and the Attorney General’s Office, which is investigating the health organizations, have argued that protecting ongoing criminal probes trumps the public’s right to information. Driggers has twice sided with them.
The Attorney General’s Office has estimated that it could take another 6.5 years to complete its investigations into all 15 organizations. Since June 2013, the AG has cleared one of the organizations, The Counseling Center of Alamogordo.
During its investigation, the AG has released portions of the audit pertaining to Easter Seals El Mirador in Northern New Mexico and The Counseling Center. The AG initially cleared Easter Seals but has since reopened its investigation at HSD’s request. Hundreds of pages of the audit remain secret.
The news organizations contend a delay in release of information of as long as 6.5 years is too long. NMID executive director Trip Jennings noted that Gov. Susana Martinez, whose administration froze the Medicaid payments, and Attorney General Gary King, whose office is investigating, are candidates for governor this year.
“In addition, the behavioral health system has been disrupted. We’re talking about some of the most vulnerable New Mexicans, who need care for issues including depression, attempted suicide and drug abuse,” Jennings said. “They need the information to be able to decide whether freezing Medicaid payments was justified so they can hold their government accountable.”