Poverty and Public Health
6:04 pm
Wed August 7, 2013

Los Lunas Behavioral Health Provider Braces For Shift In Management

New Mexico behavioral health providers who had their Medicaid funding frozen after allegations of fraud and mismanagement are in the process of transitioning to management from several Arizona contractors.

Meanwhile, Valencia Counseling Service, a facility south of Albuquerque, is holding out for a last minute reprieve from an Albuquerque District Court.

The client kitchen area looks tidy and smells of disinfectant.  Anna McCoy gave a recent tour. She’s worked at the Los Lunas facility for more than half of her life.  McCoy teaches life skills to clients with mental health challenges so that they can live independently. 

Today, McCoy is not sure of her own future. “I feel very sad,” she said, “because I’ve been working here with Valencia Counseling Service for 25 years. I have put my heart and soul working with these people. So it hurts.“

McCoy said she's seen a lot over the years, but nothing as drastic as the removal of the agency's CEO and management taken over by another organization. “This one was so unbelievable,” she said. The change, in the wake of an audit and a complete freeze of her agency’s funding, was sudden and totally unexpected.  The state’s audit, although a public document paid for with $3 million in public funds, has not been officially released.

Glenna Giles has been working here a long time, too.  She’s a psychiatric nurse who’s treated patients for 17 years at Valencia Counseling Service. 

“I need to work,” Giles said. “I guess this sounds shocking to most people, I’m 76 years old.  I love my work. I do not want to abandon my patients. “ Giles said she will likely try to keep working for the Arizona firm that will be taking over the agency’s administration.  Her colleagues also have mixed feelings about the transition.

One woman said she's concerned that her approach and her appearance might make her less appealing to a new employer.  Another said she's accepted an offer from a local company because she doesn’t want to work for an Arizona firm.

It’s the fear of change that staff says has made them lose sleep since Medicaid funds on which they heavily rely for treatment of their 400 low-income clients were cut off at the end of the fiscal year in June.

Human Services Department spokesman Matt Kennicott says all the Valencia Counseling Service clinicians will be hired by the Arizona firm, Valle del Sol. “None of the managers are bringing in clinicians,” Kennicott stressed.

One of the staff members who doesn't have the option of continuing to work for Valle del Sol is CEO Sam Vigil.  Thirty-two years ago, Vigil said he got some members of his community to form a corporation with him to provide behavioral health services in Los Lunas. “It’s really very sad for me to see what’s happening,” he said as he packed away personal photos and said goodbye to staff.

Valencia Counseling Service had successful audits in the past and the silver-haired Vigil said it feels wrong that he’s been targeted without knowing the charges against him. “I wish they would’ve at least given me the opportunity to defend myself,” he said. “I think it’s unfair, unjust and un-American.”

It's not just the staff who are worried about this transition. Amber Santini smiled as she explained that she’s been a client at Valencia Counseling Service for two and a half years. But there was fear in her eyes. “I’ve had an addiction problem for 22 years. Without programs like this, I never would have learned the tools I needed to stay sober. We are a family here.”

David Ruiz served in the Vietnam War in the 1970s and suffers from PTSD.  He's shy and keeps his sunglasses on even though we are indoors. “My concern,” he said, “is they help a lot of veterans out here. Without this program, I’d probably go into big relapses. I always have somebody to talk to out here when I’m not feeling good.”

Human Services Department spokesman Matt Kennicott says those developed relationships will be kept intact. “We’re keeping those one-to-one consumer client relationships,“ he said. “We know those have been built over years and years of work and trust.“

Eight of the Medicaid providers recently lost an appeal for reinstatement of funding, but are awaiting the outcome of a lawsuit filed against the Martinez administration in Albuquerque District Court.