A Phoenix-based non-profit group will assume control of Counseling Associates Inc. Sunday, making the longtime local behavioral services group the latest casualty in an ongoing New Mexico Human Services Department Medicaid fraud investigation.
Counseling Associates has yet to be accused of any wrongdoing.
Human Services hired an outside firm to audit behavioral health centers earlier this year. The department turned the audit over to the Attorney General and has not shared the audit with legislators or the health centers.
Yet, immediately following receipt of the audit, NMHSD froze funding to 12 health centers across the state, including Counseling Associates, and hired Arizona companies to take over services.
Turquoise Health and Wellness Inc. Community Support Services, owned by Thomas McKelvey, of Phoenix, will operate Counseling Associates.
NMHSD signed a contract with Turquoise for $2 million to take over services in Roswell, Clovis, Portales, Ft. Sumner and Tucumcari.
Attorney General Gary King’s office estimated the case could take as long as a year to investigate.
“It could be a year,” said AG spokesman Phil Sisneros.
A similar Medicaid fraud case turned over to the AG’s office in February 2012, alleged by NMHSD against Carlsbad Mental Health Center, is still not complete, Sisneros said.
Even though smaller cases, such as the Carlsbad Mental Health Center, typically only take three to four months to investigate, Sisneros said he didn’t know why Carlsbad’s case hadn’t been resolved.
No charges have been filed in that case either, though Carlsbad Mental Health Center was forced to close. The state department appointed Roswell’s Counseling Associates to assume control of that center in November.
NMHSD spokesman Matt Kennicott said he couldn’t reveal the allegations in the Carlsbad case either.
“It’s under investigation by the Attorney General and we can’t reveal what it was,” Kennicott said. “They’re very complex and technical investigations.”
During a visit to the building Wednesday, Turquoise representatives barred the Daily Record from speaking to Counseling Associates staff.
“Services will be provided by Turquoise after Aug. 11. We’re not going to comment on any other questions,” said Dolores Retana, a Turquoise communications and outreach coordinator.
In the Turquoise contract that terminates Dec. 31, the state agrees to pay the company with $1 million in federal funds from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and $1 million in state funding.
Turquoise administrators will also be compensated by NMHSD according to the following schedule: $300 an hour for the executive director; $275 for the chief operations officer; $275 an hour for the chief financial officer; $250 an hour for the manager; $200 an hour for the associate; $200 for the business analyst; $250 for the system analyst; $250 an hour for a transition consultant; $250 an hour for clinical leadership; $200 for clinical trainers; $35 an hour for office staff; and $50 an hour for administrative assistants.
Local administrative and clinical staff can continue working if they choose, Kennicott said.
“The only staff that would be affected is at the upper management level,” Kennicott said.
The transition across the state hasn’t been proceeding smoothly, in some cases.
State Sen. Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, spent the afternoon with a representative of the New Mexico Interagency Behavioral Health Purchasing Collaborative, trying to figure out why five of the centers still hadn’t been paid the $997,610 promised by the state.
Counseling Associates is owed $264,984, backed up by a court affidavit.
“They have tried and tried to get their money,” Papen said. “ I guess my question is, (is NMHSD) trying to drive them into bankruptcy? I don’t understand that.”
Some providers, counselors and officials are questioning why state leaders rushed to freeze funding to health care centers, forcing closures, before publicly revealing the audit, and before providing proof of any misconduct.
“People don’t need to be treated this way,” Papen said. “In my opinion, this is a little roughshod. The way this whole thing is going down, it just seems to me, I don’t understand the rush. There are better ways to handle this type of thing.”
Former State Sen. Tim Jennings in Roswell said he felt Counseling Associates were not given a fair chance.
“They provided exceptional service to this community for several years,” Jennings said. “Let’s get it out and show it, and not accuse somebody and destroy them, and never give them an opportunity to show them.
“That’s just not the American way.”