A New Mexico Health Department Supervisor Alleges that She is Being Retaliated Against Following A Whistleblower Lawsuit Filing, Parker Waichman Comments

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The whistleblower lawsuit accuses the Health Department of understaffing the division that certifies hospitals and other health care facilities for Medicaid funding, as well as whistleblower retaliation.

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“When companies exert abuses of power or take part in illegal or unethical financial activities, they not only defraud the government, they are defrauding unsuspecting tax payers,” added Mr. Falkowitz.

Parker Waichman LLP, a national law firm dedicated to protecting the rights of whistleblowers and victims injured by fraud is commenting on a whistleblower lawsuit brought against the New Mexico Department of Health. The case is Amber Espinosa-Trujillo v. New Mexico Department of Health, Case Number D-101-CV-201402627, filed on December 22, 2014 in the Santa Fe District Court. Ms. Espinosa-Trujillo alleges that the agency understaffed the division that certifies health care facilities to receive Medicaid funds and that she was demoted after complaining about these staffing issues.

Ms. Espinosa-Trujillo is a New Mexico Health Department supervisor who claims the Department has targeted her following her filing of a complaint over the alleged understaffing issues in the division, according to a December 26, 2014, The Associated Press (AP) report. She received a notice of corrective action and was suspended without pay for one day for reasons not specified in the lawsuit, the AP reported.

Whistleblowers are crucial to detecting and stopping fraud and are critical to ending illegal employer activities that may cause harm to consumers and may involve fraud against the government, Parker Waichman LLP notes.

According to the lawsuit, Espinosa-Trujillo alleges that, starting in 2010, her superiors at the Department of Health "began systematically disabling [the Health Facility and Licensing Certification Bureau], refusing to hire full-time employees for at least half of its 50-plus budgeted full-time employee positions, and methodically wasting its budget by instead hiring private contractors at project rates more than twice what a regular state employee would cost." Allegations also include that Espinosa-Trujillo was concerned that the staffing dearth would cause improper facility certification; thus, potentially divesting medical centers and patients of Medicaid funding. (Amber Espinosa-Trujillo v. New Mexico Department of Health, Case Number D-101-CV-201402627, filed December 22, 2014, Santa Fe District Court)

Ms. Espinosa-Trujillo was the former head of the Health Department’s Health Facility and Licensing Certification Bureau before her demotion, according to a December 23, 2014 report by the Santa Fe New Mexican. Following her complaint, she alleges, she was demoted from a position in which she managed 65 staff members to a different division in which she now oversees two employees.

Under certain circumstances, whistleblowers may maintain their anonymity during most of the whistleblower process, according to Parker Waichman LLP, which supports efforts to protect whistleblowers and offers free case evaluations to those individuals who
believe their companies may be involved in illegal practices.

The plaintiff conducted facility surveys for Medicaid certification of her own accord in an attempt to offset the personnel issue, which was seen as inappropriate by her management, according to the AP. Ms. Espinosa-Trujillo also alleges that, in addition to receiving a negative evaluation following her reporting of the issues, she was kept out of teleconferences and other meetings involving federal Medicaid personnel.

“Whistleblowers have long been crucial in assisting the federal government in recovering billions of dollars that were illegally obtained by various entities,” said Gary Falkowitz, Managing Attorney at Parker Waichman LLP. “Whistleblower lawyers have also been critical in resolving cases involving fraud and have been equally important in maintaining whistleblower anonymity in these cases,” he added.

“They also began a transparent scheme to set up Ms. Espinosa-Trujillo as the scapegoat for any failure by (the bureau) to perform its mission,” the lawsuit states. The retaliation became greater in 2014 after Ms. Espinosa-Trujillo made a complaint to the office of Governor Susana Martinez, seeking protection under the New Mexico Whistleblower Protection Act, the lawsuit alleges. The Department withdrew its disciplinary action when Ms. When Espinosa-Trujillo challenged the reprimand and sought a hearing before an administrative law judge. "Over time, the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services also noted the understaffing problem and the impact it was beginning to have on funding and delivery of Medicaid services in New Mexico," according to the complaint. (Amber Espinosa-Trujillo v. New Mexico Department of Health, Case Number D-101-CV-201402627, filed December 22, 2014, Santa Fe District Court)

“When companies exert abuses of power or take part in illegal or unethical financial activities, they not only defraud the government, they are defrauding unsuspecting tax payers,” added Mr. Falkowitz. “Parker Waichman has long supported whistleblower efforts to report illegal activities that may harm citizens and defraud government programs and firmly believes that whistleblowers play a necessary role in holding these parties responsible.”

Parker Waichman LLP supports efforts to protect whistleblowers and offers free case evaluations to those individuals who believe their companies may be involved in wrongdoings. If you believe that a government entity, consumer product manufacturer, medical device maker, or pharmaceutical company is committing fraudulent activities and would like to maintain your anonymity, contact Parker Waichman LLP at the firm’s Whistleblower page at yourlawyer.com or call 1-800-LAW-INFO (1-800-529-4636).

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