By Steve Hansen
CMI staff writer
The leaders of the TeamBuilders Counseling Services are preparing to throw in the towel after struggling to remain in operation since the New Mexico Human Services Department froze Medicaid payments to behavioral health services providers that are under investigation for possible overbillings, Lorraine Freedle, Teambuilders chief financial officer said Thursday.
That audit resulted in Teambuilders and 14 other behavioral health providers being placed under investigation by the New Mexico Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Unit. The 15 providers provided 85 percent of the state’s Medicaid services for HSD. Neither HSD nor the attorney general’s office has released details about what any of the individual providers might have done to warrant further investigation. Spokespersons for both have said that providing details would jeopardize the investigation.
In fiscal year 2013, Teambuilders served 849 individuals (children and adults) from Curry County, 253 from Roosevelt County and 147 people from Quay County, Freedle said.
On Thursday, a federal judge ruled in favor of the payment freeze.
U.S. District Judge M. Christina Armijo denied a request from eight nonprofit providers — not including Teambuilders — t asked the court to lift the state’s suspension of Medicaid payments for mental health and substance abuse services to needy New Mexicans.
The ruling came as a legislative committee heard testimony from social services advocates who warned that the payment freeze would cause a serious disruption of behavioral health services to Medicaid recipients.
“We feel for the providers involved,” Freedle said.
Freedle said Thursday that a behavioral health firm called Turquoise Life and Wellness will take over Teambuilders’ Eastern New Mexico operations on Aug. 19. These operations include those in Curry, Roosevelt, De Baca and Quay counties.
Turquoise is a subsidiary of Lifewell Behavioral Health, one of five Arizona providers that has been contracted to take over behavioral health services in place of the 15 providers implicated in the audit. Freedle said Teambuilders officials are working with Turquoise’s managers on the transition now.
Freedle said she is confident that Turquoise will continue competent professional services in the area. Turquoise, she said, is likely to hire “many of our highly skilled staff members.”
She said she and her husband Shannon Freedle, Teambuilders’ chief executive officer, are “ready to open a new chapter in our lives.”
The payment freeze, audit issues and fraud accusations, however, are leaving a bitter taste, she said.
“Contracts were violated and due process was not utilized,” she said. “We’ve had our life’s work taken from us and have been given no reason why. We are very sad for the people sharing our circumstances. We are powerless to defend ourselves.”