Rio Arriba Seeks Answers About Behavioral Health Changes

On September 9, Rio Arriba County (RAC) Management and the RAC Health and Human Services (H&HS) Department met with the Senior Director of Legislative Affairs for OptumHealth, Troy Fernandez, and New Mexico Director of Valle Del Sol, Kathy Turner, to speak about the recent changes in the state’s behavioral health system as it pertains to the county.

As many know, a recent audit was reported to the State Attorney General’s Office by the state’s Health and Human Services Department (HSD) alleging “credible allegations of fraud” of over $30 million amongst 15 behavioral health providers within the state. Providers claim a lack of due process because the audit was never revealed to them before it was sent to the AG’s Office. Several providers held public meetings in different areas, to inform citizens of what had transpired and how they were working to navigate the situation.

Thus far, the public has been informed that the state has contracted five out-of-state for-profit organizations in Arizona to administer behavioral health services in New Mexico, while several local non-profit organizations have had no choice but to shut their doors due to a Medicaid funding freeze. According to Fernandez, those service providers whose records reflected little to no audit findings are now working on transitions. Dollars budgeted for contract transitions have been reported to be around $17.8 million. According to Fernandez, a percentage of that has gone to retention of about 88 percent of existing staff, who will face a 90 day review after the fact. Fernandez also added that as of now, the end result of the AG’s investigation is yet to be seen but that OptumHealth authorities were working hard to be transparent and are working to assure that transitions happen as smoothly as possible, while trying hard to keep the trust of the public.

Turner added that in her role, she will be focusing on initiating more trauma-focused work with youth to assure that adults in the community would have less of a chance of entering adulthood with behavioral issues. She also plans to aggressively focus on drug addiction, community based programs and peer support programs as the transition moves forward.  

“My top priority is informing and educating citizens about what to expect,” said RAC Assistant Manager David Trujillo. “Our relationships with the state and with health entities are important to us as we reassure our residents that we are working in their best interest.”

In July the RAC Commission passed a resolution requesting payments to existing behavioral health providers be reinstated until the completion of the audit investigation by the AG’s Office. In August Lauren Reichelt, RAC-H&HS Director, coordinated a health fair, which implemented a twitter town hall session, designed to filter in Medicaid questions from the public to several political officials, including U.S. Congressman Ben Ray Lujan, State Senator Linda Lopez, AG Gary King, along with representatives from HSD.

“We are really trying to assure that the parties involved are held accountable for answering to the public,” said Reichelt. RAC management has expressed concerns over what the possible lack of services will mean for the community and County government. Lack of care has led to predictions of rises in detention center population, crimes, drug use, depression and even suicide. “These programs are extremely important to our communities and assuring that we pursue constant contact with those who are at the core of the issue is important for not only the community, but also for the public servants, whose services will be affected,” added Reichelt.

For more information pertaining to the audit of the local behavioral health organizations, go to

-Erika L. Martinez, September 2013