Senator Mary Kay Papen (D-38- Doña Ana), Pro Tem of the New Mexico Senate and the Legislature’s most important advocate for mental health policies, today expressed serious concerns over major problems in the State’s behavioral health system. In a letter to the Martinez Administration directors who oversee behavioral health programs – the secretaries of the departments of Human Services, Health, and Children, Youth and Families – Sen. Papen asked how service disruptions would be avoided when La Frontera shuts down its operations in southern New Mexico on June 1st. The letter pointed to steep declines in the numbers of patients receiving treatment from La Frontera and in the quality of care. It also asked the directors for answers to 17 questions about the State’s plan for transition to a new service provider in the region.
“I am deeply concerned about the clients that La Frontera will be leaving behind, and the thousands of former clients of the providers that La Frontera replaced who should have been, and were not served,” Sen. Papen said. “Since 2013, La Frontera reduced its staff by half and underutilized needed community services. Many legislators received reports of service disruptions. Lack of transparency and a lack of timely and reliable data made it impossible to verify the Human Services Department’s oft-repeated representations that more people were receiving behavioral health services than before. An independent assessment of La Frontera’s performance since the summer of 2013 confirms that the needs of those with serious mental illnesses have not been met over the last 21 months.”
Sen. Papen’s letter to the Martinez Administration points to a steep decline in New Mexicans served by the firm. It cites a recent independent report by behavioral health experts showing that La Frontera was providing care to only 3,795 patients at the end of February, 2015. Before La Frontera took over services in the region two years ago, however, there were approximately 8,100 individuals getting care.
Sen. Papen’s series of questions in the letter sent to the Martinez Administration this week ask that all possible replacement firms under consideration be identified in advance of being selected to take over from La Frontera. The letter also asks for proof of the firms’ records of performance and capabilities, financial terms to be offered by the State, and whether the State is liable for any La Frontera debt after it departs New Mexico.
La Frontera delivers behavioral care to low-income individuals in six counties across south central and southwest New Mexico. It announced in late February, 2015 that it will cease operating in the state because it was losing too much money. The State paid La Frontera a generous $4 million lump sum payment when it first arrived as part of the transition.
The non-profit firm is based in Arizona, and first took over Medicaid-funded behavioral health services for children and adults in southern New Mexico in 2013 after the Martinez Administration alleged fraud and overbilling by the locally established Families and Youth Inc., and Southwest Counseling Center. Two years later, the evidence of fraud has yet to be proven.
La Frontera joins Turquoise Health and Wellness, another Arizona-based behavioral health firm that was brought in after the 2013 shakeup, in closing its doors this year. Turquoise Health and Wellness served southeast New Mexico until recently.