Arizona firm takes over VC Services

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Starting Monday morning, things will be very different at Valencia Counseling Services. Yet it is hoped that, at the same time, things will be very much the same.

That is when Arizona-based nonprofit Valle del Sol will be taking over services, funded by Medicaid, at VCS.

Valencia Counseling Services is one of 15 New Mexico nonprofit agencies that had Medicaid funding suspended after an audit ordered by the New Mexico Human Services Department was completed in June.

The audit claims more than $36 million in Medicaid funds has been erroneously or fraudulently paid to the 15 providers during the last three years.

Acknowledging that a smooth continuation of services is critical to consumers, Valle del Sol CEO Kurt Sheppard said it is the company's hope that every person employed at Valencia Counseling Services will stay with the new company.

"It is our hope that every person who wants to come aboard with us will accept a position. We're going to hire them," Sheppard said. "We are not using this as a process to screen out people. We are not importing people from Arizona. We want New Mexicans to provide services to New Mexicans."

Sheppard said the people who won't be rehired are the top-tier administrators. That includes Sam Vigil, CEO and founder of Valencia Counseling Services. Vigil could not be reached for comment before News-Bulletin press time.

Sheppard said a new corporation — Valle del Sol of New Mexico — has been established to signify the company's commitment to New Mexicans. The new director, Kathy Turner, who is from New Mexico, Sheppard said, and will start work Aug. 29.

Turner will oversee VCS as well as behavioral health facilities in Española and Taos.

The 100 percent transition of current VCS employees to Valle del Sol is something Sheppard knows might not happen.

"We cant' force people to work for us. There are a lot of reasons they might not be comfortable doing that," he said.

For those who stay on, Sheppard said there will be no change in position or salary.

"We are doing everything we can to make this amenable," he said. "Our hope is the majority of consumers will see the same people they were before."

One of the biggest criticisms of the HSD audit is the fact that the department has not publicly released its findings, not even to the providers. The department has turned the audit findings over to the attorney general's office for criminal investigation.

Sheppard said he is as much in the dark about those findings as everyone else.

"We have not been made privy to the contents of the audit," he said.

Sheppard said he didn't feel that put the company at a disadvantage when it comes to making sure things are done correctly going forward.

"Over the last 10 years, Arizona providers have been operating under a very stringent compliance program that was driven by some serious lawsuits. The outcome of those suits were very stringent requirements for Medicaid compliance," he said.

"While we will continue to provide services, we will overlay that with a management system to help meet Medicaid requirements. It's what we've been brought in to do."

Sheppard did say that even without knowledge of the audit findings, part of what the company may have to do is change the culture of the organization.

"That's not going to happen in the first day. It is doable. We've done it and it didn't happen overnight when we had to do that in Arizona," he said. "I understand the perspective of the folks under investigation. I understand their frustration. I would want to know. As a service recipient, I understand their frustration. We are not going to be dismissive of that.

"We do understand folks' trepidation and frustration. We believe in consumer choice. We can't force anyone to use our services. But anyone who was receiving services, who wants to receive services, will."

According to its website, Valle del Sol was founded in 1970 to fill a gap in behavioral health and social services available to the Latino community and under-served population with nowhere else to turn.

The Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities accredited four of its programs that specialize in substance abuse and mental health in Arizona.

This is the fourth time a three-year accreditation was awarded, which is the highest level any organization can receive from the commission.


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.