NM lawmakers claim state contract dispute will disrupt senior services

SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – A surprise funding shake-up by a state agency has lawmakers worried about the chance of a major disruption to senior services for tens of thousands of elderly New Mexicans.

Two Democratic lawmakers are now calling out the New Mexico Aging and Long-Term Services Department for its cancelation of a contract with the entity called the “Non-Metro Area Agency on Aging,” or NMAAA.

The state is planning to takeover reimbursement services next month for dozens of the senior service providers that the NMAAA currently works with. Some lawmakers don’t think the state is equipped to shoulder the workload. They believe it will hurt senior services who are extremely reliant on timely reimbursement.

Sometimes referred to as “Triple A,” the NMAAA is a longtime regional senior service program coordinator that distributes about $20 million in funding each year to dozens of senior service programs statewide.

Essentially, NMAAA is responsible for coordinating reimbursement payments to 65 different senior service programs, spanning across every single New Mexico county, except for Bernalillo. Those programs include “Meals on Wheels,” group meals at senior centers, respite care, homemaker services and senior transportation services.

The critical services that NMAAA does reimbursement work for cover more than 70,000 seniors each year.

However, the state’s Aging and Long-Term Service Department is now trying to cut ties with NMAAA, alleging that the group is responsible for “numerous billing and reimbursement issues.”

The allegations arose after a state review of NMAAA in September 2017.

VIEW: State Review of NMAAA – 2017 Report
VIEW: NMAAA’s Response to 2017 State Report

The Santa Fe group responsible for the NMAAA’s operation, the “North Central New Mexico Economic Development District,” (NCNMEDD) has denied the state’s claims writing, “We are convinced this is an unnecessary action and we are pursuing all possible options with the ALTSD to rescind this decision.”

In a phone call with KRQE News 13 on Friday, NCNMEDD Executive Director Tim Armer said, “I think it’s not unreasonable to say that (the state) is at fault for some of the delays” in payment.

The state’s decision to cut ties with the NMAAA was sent out in a letter dated December 20, 2017.

VIEW: NMAAA Termination Letter

In a separate letter to senior service providers, the state now says it will “directly handle all reimbursement requests and payments” with the 65 different senior service provides that NMAAA used to work with. The reimbursement takeover is expected to begin on February 1, 2018.

VIEW: State Letter to Service Providers
VIEW: NMAAA’s Response to State Letter

In response, two Democratic lawmakers, Sen. Howie Morales of Grant County, and Rep. Debbie Armstrong of Bernalillo County are trying to stop the state.

“This is something that will be a tremendous impact,” said Sen. Morales in an interview with KRQE News 13 Friday.

Senator Morales believes that the state’s decision will disrupt millions of dollars in state funding for senior services.

“I’m really concerned because the department is saying they can handle it on their own and they can do it within their own capacity, I seriously doubt that that’s going to take place,” said Sen. Morales.

The Senator says he’s concerned that the state does not have the resources to deal with the reimbursement work it’s about to take on.

“State government has been cut over the years so much and to ask an agency or a department to take over what the agency has done … I think it’s important that we reverse this as soon as possible,” said Sen. Morales.

A spokesman for the state’s Aging and Long-Term services Department, Paul Rhien, responded to questions from KRQE News 13 Friday, writing in-part, “We are working with providers to make sure these services continue and we won’t be distracted by politics.”

Sen. Morales says he will call for a hearing on the state’s termination of NMAAA’s contract during the upcoming legislative session.

Meanwhile, the Aging and Long-Term Services Department has asked the New Mexico State Auditor’s Office to look into the NMAAA’s alleged financial issues.

The Aging and Long-Term Services Department provided this full statement:

“The Aging and Long-Term Services Department (ATSD) took this action for a singular reason: to ensure services to New Mexico’s senior citizens are not disrupted by questionable finances. We are working with providers to make sure these services continue and we won’t be distracted by politics. In fulfilling our mission to serve some of the most vulnerable residents in the state, our priority is supporting the providers who take care of our elders, while safeguarding taxpayer dollars.”

–Paul Rhien, Communications Director, New Mexico Aging & Long-Term Services Dept.

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