Mental health advocates rallied at the Capitol on Tuesday and delivered a petition calling on lawmakers to stop proposed cuts to behavioral health care services, days after the state Senate approved an amended budget that would cut such services by $3.7 million.
Generation Justice, an Albuquerque nonprofit that says New Mexico is in a behavioral health care crisis, collected some 2,300 signatures. The group, which trains youth on how to raise awareness of social justice issues through media, said it conducted more than 60 interviews with behavioral health patients and providers to produce 60 videos and three radio spots that feature personal stories about state-delivered services.
Roberta Rael, director of Generation Justice, said at a rally in the Capitol Rotunda that “we will never know the financial impact” of the 2013 behavioral health care shake-up. She was referring to Gov. Susana Martinez’s suspension of funding to 15 providers whom her administration accused of overbilling Medicaid by $36 million. Thirteen of those providers have since been cleared of criminal wrongdoing, and investigations into two of them are ongoing. The Martinez administration has denied that services were disrupted as a result of the shake-up.
Rael delivered the petition to Sen. Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo, who told the crowd the “budget is pretty tough this year.”
Griggs said he knows many in the hard-hit oil patch who have behavioral health issues “because people are struggling to put food on the table.”
“Our economy is what funds a lot of the things we do,” he said. “Our economy is hurting.”
The proposed state budget approved by the Senate on Monday includes a nearly 10 percent reduction — $3.7 million — from state funding that the Human Services Department’s Behavioral Health Services Division currently receives.
Violet Martinez, 18, a fellow at Generation Justice, told the crowd that she’s a trans woman of color who remembers being in and out of therapy since she was in middle school.
Martinez said she went to Hogares Inc., an Albuquerque-based behavioral health care provider, which referred her to a community support worker who developed a relationship with her.
But Martinez said that relationship ended after the state accused Hogares in June of 2013 of potential Medicaid overbilling and fraud, forcing it out of business pending a criminal investigation. Open Skies, one of the five Arizona firms the state contracted with to take over services of the 15 accused providers, took over services for Albuquerque. Martinez did not return to Open Skies.
Hogares was among 10 accused providers cleared last week of criminal wrongdoing by the state attorney general. Hogares and six other firms have asked the state to restore their Medicaid funding.
The New Mexico Human Services Department has said there’s been an 84 percent increase in behavioral health services since the 2013 shake-up. Much of that increase was a result of the state’s decision to expand Medicaid, and lawmakers and providers have cast doubt on that claim.
Justin Horwath can be reached at (505) 986-3017 or [email protected].