The number of investigations into suspected abuse and neglect of adults at New Mexico long-term care facilities fell sharply amid the COVID-19 outbreak as nursing homes were closed to in-person visitation.

The Adult Protective Services Division of the state’s Aging and Long-Term Services Department conducted an average of 459 investigations per month into abuse and neglect allegations between January and March of this year. But that number fell to 294 in April and 332 in May, Cabinet Secretary Katrina Hotrum-Lopez said Friday.

“We didn’t want to make our clients more vulnerable, and so we did a lot of things virtually,” Hotrum-Lopez told legislators at an online meeting of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee. “When we started closing down, we saw a drop and a decline in the types of complaints that we would actually investigate.”

The care people receive in congregate-care facilities has been under scrutiny almost from the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis — first with deadly outbreaks of the novel coronavirus at nursing homes statewide and later as families began to chafe against the restrictions that often limited their visits to communicating through nursing home windows.

As the virus began to spread in New Mexico in March, state officials issued an emergency order limiting contact at nursing homes to people whose loved ones were receiving end-of-life care and prohibiting other visitors.

Earlier this month, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham relaxed the state’s restrictions, allowing for outdoor visitation by appointment with group home residents at long-term care facilities with no active COVID-19 cases and only in counties with low case rates.

The governor has acknowledged the difficulties families have experienced since they have been able to visit loved ones, noting earlier this month that she hadn’t been able to see her own mother.

“Long-term care residents and their families have suffered over these long months of the pandemic,” Lujan Grisham said.

Still, she has emphasized the importance of protecting some of the most high-risk members of the population from COVID-19.

When the restrictions were tightened — and even now with limited visitation — long-term care officials have had to change how they conduct investigations, speaking by phone or online with more residents and staff.

“You’ll see in the past that we just really strictly did in-person investigations,” Hotrum-Lopez said. “Now, in the present, we’re doing more phone and FaceTime and socially distant investigations.”



With that new approach, officials expect the number of investigations they conduct to rise going forward.

Reporter

Jens Gould covers politics for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He was a correspondent for Bloomberg News in Mexico City, a regular contributor for TIME in California, and produced the video series Bravery Tapes.

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