Assessments highlight concerns, harm at health centers in New Mexico

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A new assessment of state hospitals for veterans, the mentally ill and the elderly describes inadequate oversight that threatens the ability to provide quality care, including harmful conditions at a Truth or Consequences care facility for military veterans.

Presented Thursday to New Mexico lawmakers, the assessment by the Legislative Budget and Accountability Office describes improvements in financial management, marketing and tracking of clinical outcomes for patients.

But the quality of patient care and supervision at the New Mexico Veterans Home at Truth or Consequences, in particular, continues to be a cause for concern.

Problems there were highlighted recently by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which found substandard care and examples of patients being harmed.

That review found that the State Veterans Home did not intervene properly to care for a patient who fell eight times and died after being found unresponsive after a fall. A diabetic patient was sent home with insulin but no glucometer, and another patient was intubated despite a do-not-resuscitate order.

The home failed to ensure compliance with infection control protocols and training, such as the use of face masks by staff and proper antibiotic procedures – putting residents at risk.

The facility risks losing funding agreements with the Medicaid and Medicare programs if the deficiencies still aren’t fixed in December. The facility’s medical director lost privileges as a result of the federal investigation in June and resigned.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said state officials are confident the facility will be back in compliance within the timeframe determined by the re-inspection.

In a statement Thursday, the governor recounted an impromptu visit to the veterans home earlier in the week to personally check on progress and meet with residents and staff.

“I assured them all that I will continue to hold those responsible for the care of our veterans accountable until all benchmarks are met and every shortcoming is corrected,” Lujan Grisham said in the statement. “I’ve also made several commitments to them based on their feedback, including increasing transportation options, improving their access to medical professionals, and greater flexibility for dining options and times.”

The governor indicated that five people at the veterans’ home were recently terminated, while two nurses were reported for discipline and eight other employees were reprimanded or counseled. An expert team has assessed the facility and staff are now being trained in critical areas.

New Mexico has awarded at least $60 million to the Department of Health to build new veterans homes at Truth or Consequences, which are scheduled for completion next year.

In total, New Mexico currently operates seven facilities that provide court-ordered psychiatric care, drug and alcohol detoxification services, nursing care for honorably discharged military veterans, teenagers with mental health or violence issues, supportive living for people with disabilities from youth, etc.

A 2021 facilities assessment identified a need for better management, planning and oversight. Out of a dozen recommendations, four have been implemented and solutions are being found for another eight.

The release of the new report coincided with a visit by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to a new senior center in Wagon Mound.

The Ministry of Health has begun tracking the daily occupancy of all its facilities. The results showed that only around half of licensed beds were occupied from March to July 2022.

The evaluators also found that the Turquoise Lodge detox center in Albuquerque does not allow walk-ins, which require a multi-step phone intake process. Federal guidelines say this makes patients less likely to seek treatment.

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