FYI building in Las Cruces, NM.

With agreement in hand, behavioral health CEO believed vindication was inevitable

Even in his final days of battling leukemia in early 2016, Jose Frietze was fighting for the youth services agency he founded in 1977. The state Human Services Department had accused the organization — Las Cruces-based Families and Youth Inc. — of potential Medicaid fraud and overbilling by $856,745 in 2013. A stop payment of $1.5 million in Medicaid funding for services already provided crimped FYI’s cash flow, leading to layoffs. And because of the accusations, FYI was forced to hand off part of its business to an Arizona company brought in by Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration. Frietze’s daughters Victoria and Marisa remember how tough the allegations were on Frietze and their family.

ABQ mayor’s race tops $2 million

Albuquerque’s mayoral contest is officially a $2 million race, setting the stage for the most expensive mayor’s race ever in the city. Campaign finance reports filed today show mayoral candidates have raised or otherwise accumulated $2,103,107 since the beginning of the year. That figure includes $380,791 for Tim Keller’s publicly financed campaign. $500,000 in loans to himself by Ricardo Chaves, plus $8,648 he’s contributed to his own campaign. Dan Lewis has raised $355,254, which includes $90,477.56 he started the year with.

Fracking boom leads to tension in Navajo communities

On a windy Monday morning in May, residents packed the Counselor Chapter House. Some sat in plastic folding chairs, while others leaned against the wall, all paying attention to the speakers. Coming to the front of the chapter house, Marie Chavez Herbert introduced herself in the Navajo language. “I’m going to talk real fast OK,” she said as she took the microphone to talk about fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, in her community near Chaco Canyon. Four members of the Navajo Nation Council, Speaker LoRenzo Bates, Councilor Amber Kanazbah Crotty, Councilor Davis Filfred and Councilor Leonard Tsosie who represents Counselor as well as nearby chapters, had come to hear testimony from area residents. The listening session, which lasted about five hours, provided a glimpse into tensions in several small Navajo communities near Chaco Canyon over an uptick in fracking in recent years, pitting those who worry about the public health hazards it poses against government agencies who authorize it, as well as some of their neighbors who benefit  economically from leasing their land to oil and gas companies.

New Mexico behavioral health care system gets federal review

The federal Health and Human Services Department will inspect if New Mexico is properly serving New Mexicans in need of mental illness and addiction services. The review by the Inspector General of the federal Health and Human Services Department, confirmed in late June and made public Friday afternoon, comes roughly four years after Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration disrupted care for tens of thousands of New Mexicans when her Human Services Department accused 15 organizations of Medicaid fraud and potentially overbilling the government by nearly $36 million. Citing the fraud accusations, the Human Services Department suspended the flow of ‘behavioral health’ Medicaid dollars to many of the organizations in the summer of 2013. Unable to stay in business without the Medicaid dollars, many had to shut their doors and are no longer in business. Ultimately no Medicaid fraud was ever found.

The slow-motion unraveling of New Mexico’s Medicaid crackdown

There’s no getting around it. Four years after Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration charged 15 behavioral health organizations with potentially defrauding the state’s Medicaid program, its case has experienced a slow-motion unraveling. No Medicaid fraud was ever found. And those eye-popping estimates that added up to $36 million the organizations had overbilled Medicaid? In the summer of 2017, the Human Services Department (HSD) is seeking drastically lower reimbursements for overbilling the public health insurance program for low-income residents, a review of public records and state court documents has found.

Black leaders call for more communication between city and community

Black community leaders and citizens have taken to the airwaves to call for reform as more information surfaces about a federal sting operation that arrested a disproportionate number of blacks in a city with comparatively few African Americans. Earlier this month, I interviewed leaders from several black community groups, as well as black citizens, for a New Mexico In Depth story about the design of the 2016 criminal operation conducted by the federal bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The ATF operation used three black and two Hispanic confidential informants (none were white) and focused on a low-income, largely minority section of southeast Albuquerque.  Last week on NMPBS’s public affairs show, New Mexico In Focus, I continued that discussion with Patrick Barrett of the local chapter of the NAACP and Janette McClelland, a resident of one of the neighborhoods targeted in the operation.  (NMPBS is an NMID partner.

NM settles $2.8M Medicaid overpayment claim for $485

As Gilda Radner’s Emily Litella might have said, “Nevermind!”

More than four years after accusing Southwest Counseling Center of overbilling the state by $2.8 million in Medicaid reimbursements, the Human Services Department has settled with the former Las Cruces behavioral health provider for $484.87. SWCC was one of 15 health organizations accused of overbilling and potential fraud by Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration in 2013.  The state suspended Medicaid payments to the organizations pending an investigation, and outsourced behavioral health contracts to five Arizona companies, which effectively crippled the network of New Mexico behavioral health providers.  All the while, the state kept an audit they used to justify the move secret, making it impossible for each organization to know what they were being accused of specifically. See a timeline and read of coverage of the Medicaid freeze here.

Black man swept up in ATF sting wins legal victory, but stiffer prosecution looms

A federal judge in Albuquerque has concluded the methods used by federal agents in a 2016 undercover sting operation made it likely they would arrest a disproportionate number of minorities. And the bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) did nothing to avoid the potential racial bias as agents chose people to target, Senior U.S. District Judge James Parker, a Ronald Reagan appointee, wrote in a five-page order issued Monday. Parker’s ruling means Yusef Casanova, who was arrested last year, has the go-ahead to seek evidence to prove the agency targeted him at least in part because he was black. Casanova’s procedural legal victory comes as black community leaders in Albuquerque demand answers from federal and local officials about the operation. Agents arrested 103 people — 28 of whom were black, or 27 percent — a dramatic overrepresentation compared to Albuquerque’s 3 percent black population.

NMID welcomes Sylvia Ulloa and says goodbye to Sandra Fish

Changes are coming to New Mexico In Depth. First, we’re thrilled to announce Sylvia Ulloa is joining our team. Sylvia most recently was managing editor of the Las Cruces Sun-News in the agricultural Mesilla Valley in southern New Mexico. Sylvia brings extensive experience in multi-media reporting and building engagement opportunities. She’ll be instrumental in deepening New Mexico In Depth’s community engagement program going forward, and we are looking forward to on-the-ground reporting from southern New Mexico.