ALBUQUERQUE ― Rep. Debbie Armstrong (D-Bernalillo), chair of the New Mexico House of Representatives Health and Human Services Committee, Thursday denounced the Department of Aging and Long-Term Services Department’s decision to arbitrarily cancel a critical elder-care program as a violation of federal law, as well as the Department’s own regulations, and a threat to the health and well-being of thousands of New Mexico seniors.
“Disrupting services to vulnerable seniors in rural communities in the middle of winter is an outrage on multiple levels,” said Rep. Armstrong, who has previously served as the Secretary of Aging and Long-Term Services. “Not only are Gov. Martinez and Acting-Sec. Knowles jeopardizing the lives of New Mexico’s elderly, but they are also violating federal and state law by not following the mandated process for canceling the Area Agency on Aging’s contract.”
Under the Older Americans Act, a federal law put in place to protect seniors, states establish Area Agencies on Aging, which are federally funded, to manage a network of contract services, such as in-home care and meal preparation, for vulnerable seniors.
In New Mexico, the North Central New Mexico Economic Development District has operated the Non-Metro Area Agency on Aging, which manages a network of critical services to more than 70,000 seniors, for more than 30 years.
In the final days of 2017, Acting Secretary of Aging and Long-Term Services Department, Kyky Knowles, quietly announced that the department was canceling the contract effective Feb. 1, 2018, and that all of the services that NMAAA had provided would be provided instead by the already-strapped staff of the department.
Because Area Agencies on Aging are created under federal law, any changes to them must follow a clearly defined process, including public hearings and the right to appeal. The Department did not comply with any of the federal requirements.
Further, the department’s own regulations require public hearings before a contract of this type can be canceled, putting the department in violation of its own policies.
Today, Rep. Armstrong sent an official letter to the secretary outlining her concerns and demanding that the program be re-instated. Rep. Armstrong also made it clear that she is prepared to take further action.
“I will not sit by and let our seniors be disrespected and disregarded by this administration,” Rep. Armstrong said. “I’ve spent a career fighting for our most vulnerable citizens and I certainly do not plan to stop now.”