After a tortured Rio Rancho woman named Mary Melero was smuggled to the Mexican border with serious injuries in February and died in April from her injuries, the New Mexico Department of Health and Adult Protective Services at the Aging & Long-Term Services Department joined forces to establish a consolidated Central Intake Reporting system for reporting abuse, neglect and exploitation (ANE).

Angelica Chacon, Patricia Hurtado and Luz Scott were all charged with various crimes tied to Melero’s death but have not yet gone to trial. Scott, who was charged with false imprisonment crimes, is on a different schedule from Chacon and Hurtado. Chacon and Hurtado were detained for pre-trial purposes.

Justice for Melero didn’t stop with those arrests, though. DOH and Adult Protective Services looked into treatment of those with developmental disabilities to see if the Melero case was the only abuse incident in the state. It was not.

“In the wake of the tragic Mary Melero case, the New Mexico Department of Health has heeded this wake-up call, intensifying oversight efforts,” DOH Cabinet Secretary Patrick Allen said.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called for an “all-hands” approach to improve how the state serves and protects those with developmental disabilities. The state completed in-person wellness checks for 6,815 clients from the states’ DD Waiver programs in April.

“This collaborative effort presents its insights in the 2023 Incident Management Bureau (IMB) Annual Report, published by the Division of Health Improvement at DOH for the fiscal year 2023. It’s important to note that the report’s findings specifically pertain to developmentally disabled individuals receiving services on the DD Waiver programs,” it says in a release from the DOH.

The report found that IMB substantiated 777 allegations of abuse, neglect or exploitation. Of those, 547 individuals were determined to have been victims of abuse, neglect or exploitation.

With 2,259 investigations conducted, the intensified focus on ANE has led to tangible results. Collaborative endeavors have enabled more comprehensive examination of ANE cases, further safeguarding those in vulnerable situations. The IMB emphasizes an Immediate Action and Safety Plan to ensure the safety of individuals during investigations. This approach is designed to provide immediate support and protection for those affected. The report also delves into the causes and contributing factors of neglect, offering valuable insights for preventing such incidents in the future.

“Our heightened vigilance has yielded significant results, uncovering additional instances of abuse, neglect and exploitation, highlighting the importance of vigilance and accountability in safeguarding vulnerable individuals under our care,” Allen said.

The table provides a comprehensive overview of investigations and findings related to abuse, neglect, or exploitation for the fiscal years 2022 and 2023.(DOH graphic)

This integrated system operates a 24-hour hotline at 866-654-3219 for reporting incidents such as abuse, neglect, exploitation, suspicious injury, environmental hazards and deaths. Alternatively, individuals can submit reports online at nmhealth.org/about/dhi/ane/rane/.

Changes to DD administration

1. Increased staff and training for in-person inspections.
2. Mandatory health and safety inspections every 90 days.
3. Mandatory referrals to law enforcement for any substantiated case of abuse, neglect or exploitation.
4. Raising public awareness for reporting potential abuse and neglect.
5. New civil and criminal penalties for companies and providers.

Warning Signs outlined by Special Needs Alliance:

  • Changes in behavior, such as disliking places or activities that were fine before.
  • Emotional changes, especially seeming more anxious, sad or withdrawn.
  • Unexplained injuries or major health changes like losing a lot of weight.
  • Unexpected medication changes or overmedication.
  • Increased isolation from others.
  • Poor personal or home hygiene, like unwashed hair, dirty clothing or uncleaned home or laundry.
  • Unpaid bills or unexplained new credit cards or accounts.
  • Lack of appropriate medical care or treatment.
  • Sudden over-reliance on a caregiver who has no prior relationship to the individual

What can people do to report abuse or neglect?

  • Contact local police or law enforcement.
  • Call the State’s Adult Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation Hotline at 1-800-445-6242, or file a report online.
  • Make a report with the caregiver agency, group home or long-term care facility or other organization that helps oversee your loved one’s care.
  • Contact Disability Rights New Mexico.
  • Connect your loved one with a social or case worker or other community agencies that support people with disabilities or abuse and neglect survivors.

Anyone suspecting abuse, neglect or exploitation of any person who is on one of the state’s Developmental Disabilities Waiver Programs, or anyone else, should call the Adult Protective Services Central Intake Unit toll-free at 1-866-654-3219 or file a report online at nmhealth.org/about/dhi/ane/rane/.