NMDOH conducts wellness checks to uncover abuse and neglect cases

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Mary Melero was a South Valley woman who had autism and needed a caretaker. Despite calls for help, Mary endured an excruciating amount of pain before her death under the care of state-contracted providers.

Three women were charged in her case, but it raised a larger question: Are other people under providers’ care suffering like Mary was? And is reform needed on a state level?

On Wednesday, state Department of Health officials tried to ease concerns about the system that law enforcement says needed a “wake-up call.”

NMDOH officials got to work, and during a virtual press conference, they released some numbers. 

During April, the Department of Health conducted more than 6,000 in-person wellness checks on people with disabilities.

After thousands of visits, they found there were 59 people that needed more involved investigations.

Out of those 59 people, a majority of the concerns were “unsubstantiated” and a total of six people in the entire state needed what they’re calling, “corrective action plans.”

The Department of Health secretary says this is proof there is not a widespread problem.

“When the Mary Melero case first came to our attention, her case was – was tragic, and shocking, and our hearts go out to her family,” said NMDOH Secretary Patrick Allen. “What this data shows is the answer to that question: Was there widespread serious abuse that we were unaware of, is no.”

Those who loved Mary see things differently. This past weekend her family held a memorial event

They say repeated cries for help went unanswered, and now their family attorney says they are looking at everything from lawsuits, to new legislation to try and change the system that failed Mary.

“We need to be able to report neglect and somebody go check on them right away. We need to have periodic check-ups with these people that need help, and make sure that somebody is going every three, four months. It can’t go two years without anybody ever checking on them,” said Adam Oakey, a family attorney.

The attorney general called for mandatory welfare checks every 90 days. That would mean everyone in these programs would get checked out four times a year.

On Wednesday, the state committed to checking on everyone once per year. They did say higher-risk folks would be prioritized and checked in more often.