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NM legislators raise concerns over slow payments to providers

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Monica Duran, shown here in July with Jerry Brewer, says problems continue with state reimbursements for services but that area legislators have indicated their willingness to help resolve problems. (File Photo)

The slow reimbursement issues that have caused problems for the Chaves County JOY Centers and other senior care providers around the state have gotten increased attention from state legislators.

“The situation hasn’t gotten much better,” said Monica Duran, executive director of the JOY Centers, which provides senior services through four locations in the county.

Duran said that local legislators, including Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell (R-Roswell), have talked with state officials on the organization’s behalf and have expressed their intent to help find solutions. State legislators also have raised concerns with New Mexico Aging and Long-Term Services officials at recent meeting.

One improvement, said Duran, is that the intermediary agency that processes payments, the Non-Metro Area Agency on Aging, has reached out to provide technical assistance, but she added that that the reimbursement delays remain and a new problem has developed.

In prior years, the nonprofit received reimbursement for services by the 20th of the following month. But this fiscal year, the reimbursements have taken up to three weeks longer, resulting in some staff going without pay for a week or more.

“Currently we don’t foresee having any closures or anything,” Duran said, “but it just creates delays. If we are delayed in getting payments, then we are delayed in paying our vendors and employees.”

A second, recent problem is that the intermediary is also experiencing a backlog in inputting information about new clients. That causes the JOY Center to be delayed filing for reimbursement until the client information is in the system, Duran said.

“Now we don’t just experience delays in receiving payment but also delays in being able to submit request for payments,” she said.

Tim Armer, executive director of the Non-Metro Area Agency of Aging, which is a division of the North Central Economic Development District, said in a September interview that this fiscal year’s reimbursement delays were due to the state taking much longer than before, up to the 30 days allowed by legal agreements, to process payments.

But Paul Rhein, communications director for the aging department, said that Aging and Long-Term Services processes payments quickly.

“On average over the past year, from the time we have received the monthly payment request from Non-Metro AAA, we have returned payment to them on average within nine business days,” he said.

He did explain that errors in reports from Non-Metro can cause processing delays and that the state department has encouraged Non-Metro to submit reimbursement requests as soon as they are ready, rather than holding all reimbursement requests up if there is a problem with one of the providers’ reports.

Problems were acknowledged by some legislators at a Nov. 15 Legislative Finance Committee meeting with representatives of the Aging and Long-Term Services Department, including acting secretary Kyky Knowles.

“There is a strong resentment about what is taking place in the state with Triple As, particularly in the southeastern and southwestern part of the state,” said Sen. John Arthur Smith (D-Deming), referring to the Area Agencies on Aging. “One of the big issues is that reimbursement is not on a timely basis.”

There are four Triple As in the state. Two cover tribal entities, one covers Bernalillo County and Non-Metro handles the other sections of the state.

Smith said that he has heard from providers in Otero, Sierra, Grant, Lincoln, Eddy and Lea counties about reimbursement problems and also heard that some providers have feared retribution for speaking out.

“They are not carrying extra cash by any means and those employees are minimum salary earners for the most part, and their only option if it (reimbursement) doesn’t come through in a timely fashion is, we are going to have to shut down.”

Rep. Randal S. Crowder (R-Clovis) said he found himself nodding in agreement with Smith.

“Centers have said to me that they have tried to get money from cities because they haven’t received reimbursement,” he said.

Ezzell, while not a member of the Legislative Finance Committee, has sought to help the JOY Center after learning from Duran about the problem. She said she wrote a letter to state officials to stress the need to determine the causes of the problems and come up with solutions.

In response, she said, she received an email Tuesday from Armer indicating that Non-Metro intends to request that it once again receive advance funding from the state, a sort of reserve fund to enable it to make payments to providers prior to receiving reimbursement from the state for current requests.

The concern with that, said Ezzell, is that the Department of Finance and Administration has found a $337,000 bookkeeping error for the Triple As.

“I understand where DFA is coming from,” said Ezzell. “They don’t want to give the advance funding if there are questions about how the funding is being used.”

The discrepancy was mentioned during the recent Legislative Finance Committee meeting. Program Evaluator Brian Hoffmeister told committee members that the problem was found during audits of two of the larger Triple As, with one of those two being Non-Metro. He did not specify which agency was involved or if both had bookkeeping errors. He said corrective actions were requested in the audit.

Ezzell said that her primary concern is to keep services intact for seniors and will continue to pursue answers.

“It has got to be taken care of,” she said. “Sometimes this is the only meal our seniors get in a day. They need to be able to stay in their homes and they need to be engaged in activities, and that is what the JOY Center enables them to do.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.