NM health supervisor files whistleblower suit

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – A New Mexico Health Department supervisor says she has been targeted by the agency after complaining about understaffing in the division that certifies health care facilities to receive Medicaid funds.

Amber Espinosa-Trujillo, the former head of the agency’s Health Facility and Licensing Certification Bureau, filed a whistleblower lawsuit in state court this week.

Her attorney told the Santa Fe New Mexican (http://bit.ly/1CyrNwa ) that Espinosa-Trujillo was demoted after she complained about a shortage in personnel to review hospitals and other health care sites. A state Health Department spokesman said policy prohibits public statements about personnel matters and pending litigation.

Espinosa-Trujillo says her superiors refused to hire full-time employees for at least half of the division’s 50-plus budgeted full-time employee positions. She also accused them of methodically wasting money by hiring private contractors at rates more than twice what a regular state employee would cost.

Espinosa-Trujillo worried the staffing deficiency would lead to improper certification of facilities, which could potentially deprive medical centers and patients of Medicaid funding, according to the lawsuit.

“Over time, the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services also noted the understaffing problem and the impact it was beginning to have on funding and delivery of Medicaid services in New Mexico,” according to the complaint.

According to the lawsuit, Espinosa-Trujillo took it upon herself to conduct some facility surveys for Medicaid certification to make up for the lack of personnel, a step that higher-ups viewed as inappropriate.

“They also began a transparent scheme to set up Ms. Espinosa-Trujillo as the scapegoat for any failure by (the bureau) to perform its mission,” the suit states.

Espinosa-Trujillo said she received a negative evaluation after reporting the problems and was excluded from teleconferences and meetings with federal Medicaid personnel.

She says the retaliation intensified last year after she complained to Gov. Susana Martinez’s office and sought protection under the New Mexico Whistleblower Protection Act. After taking those steps, she was given a notice of corrective action and suspended without pay for a day for reasons that aren’t specified in the complaint.

When Espinosa-Trujillo challenged the reprimand by seeking a hearing before an administrative law judge, the department withdrew its disciplinary action against her.

The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of damages and attorney’s fees from the department.

___

Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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