New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who co-chairs President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team, is reportedly being considered to lead the Health and Human Services department.

A source close to Biden told Politico that governors are strong contenders for the job, and Grisham previously implemented a study looking into implementing a public option for health care at the state level, which is in line with Biden's push to create one at the federal level. 

And though she has a background in her state’s Department of Health, controversies from her past may loom over a potential appointment. 

First, she profited off her state’s pricey high-risk insurance pool, even after ObamaCare was designed to weed it out. 

Even after ObamaCare virtually made such programs obsolete, New Mexico continued to use a high-priced health insurance program for seriously ill patients. Grisham and her former campaign treasurer State Rep. Debra Armstrong’s firm Delta Consulting won a contract to run the high-risk pool in 2009. Their firm received millions to run the program, even as Grisham was serving in Congress.

The state’s high-risk pool remains open, even though it has higher premiums than ObamaCare, and despite state Republicans’ efforts to curtail the program. A bill that would have limited high-risk pool enrollment and saved the state budget up to $43 million a year stalled in the legislature.

Both Grisham and Armstrong deny pressuring state officials to keep the near-obsolete program open, though it would be hard to tell due to New Mexico’s lax conflict of interest rules. 

Grisham sold her 50% stake in the firm in 2018 when she announced her run for governor. Her congressional financial disclosure forms show she earned between $165,000 and $350,000 in dividends from Delta between 2013 and 2016, according to a Politico report. 

A Democratic primary challenger for governor, Jeff Apodaca, accused Grisham of taking “federal and state funds, and running the high-risk pool that doesn't really need to exist anymore.”

“And they're paying themselves thousands and thousands of dollars," he said. "That's money that could go to New Mexico families."

Another Democratic challenger, state Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces, told Lujan Grisham: "You've been paid a lot of money from a state contract until you decided to run for governor."


She ignored complaints of abuse in long-term care facilities.

Grisham served as head of New Mexico’s Agency of Aging and secretary of the Department of Health from 1991-2007. For years, Grisham heard complaints of mistreatment at state-run long-term care facilities.

“We’ve always heard relatives of people say: ‘You bureaucrats, you just don’t understand what’s happening to our family members,’ ” Grisham told the Albuquerque Journal in 1997.

Finally, Grisham went “undercover” to see firsthand how patients were being treated. During her dayslong stay at facilities in the state, Grisham endured “thoughtless care” and even had personal belongings stolen, according to a 1997 Albuquerque Journal story. 

To protect the rights of senior citizens, the Older Americans Act designated a “long-term care ombudsman” position to oversee facilities accepting federal grants. Tim Covell, who served as ombudsman at the Agency of Aging under Grisham, resigned in 1997 after he claimed Grisham stopped him from sending a letter to the state secretary of Health. According to the Journal, the letter had asked the secretary to close a facility in Albuquerque that had continued to operate for four years without the department’s knowledge after its license had been denied.

After the Department of Justice stepped in to investigate the facility Ft. Bayard under Grisham’s department, it found that residents there suffer significant harm and risk of harm from the facility’s inadequate medical and nursing care services.” 

The DOJ sent a letter to then-Gov. Bill Richardson revealing Ft. Bayard had failed to provide proper medication, nutrition, hydration and other human needs. 


“We found numerous situations where residents’ last days of life were spent in miserable pain as they died from the effects of what appeared to be reckless and almost willful disregard to their health and safety,” the letter said. “In fact, in practically every record we reviewed of deceased or current Ft. Bayard residents, we discovered life-threatening omissions and commissions of treatment.” 

Grisham told the Albuquerque Journal that the department knew about these problems “for a long time from adult protective services” and that “her head was exploding” after receiving the reports.

She reportedly violated her own stay-at-home order to buy jewelry.

In April, Grisham issued a statewide public health order, shuttering small businesses and urging residents to stay home and only go out for food and supplies.

Days later, she called an employee at the Lilly Barrack jewelry shop in Albuquerque — where she has a longstanding relationship — to make a purchase over the phone, according to KRQE-TV.

No one was allowed in the store at the time because of the public health order.

Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett told the Albuquerque Journal that the transaction complied with the governor's emergency public health order at the time and that she didn't receive special treatment. A friend of Grisham's picked up the purchased items left outside the jewelry store employee's home, the spokeswoman said.

“There were no state guidelines broken,” Sackett said. “It was an entirely contact-free purchase.”

Curbside pickup outside stores wasn't allowed in the state until May 1.

Grisham’s former campaign communications director has accused her of sexual assault.

James Hallinan accused Grisham of assaulting him at the home of state Rep. Deborah Armstrong at a routine campaign meeting at Armstrong’s home in 2018 in the months before the election. 

Both Grisham’s office and Armstrong have denied any such event occurred. Hallinan told the Santa Fe New Mexican that Grisham dumped water in his lap then reached towards his genitals.

Hallinan later tweeted that he’d endured “long, horrific abuse” under Grisham and accused her staff of trying to cover it up. He said he felt as if he’d been “under her thumb.” 

The governor’s office described Hallinan’s allegations as “categorically false,” and Armstrong said she’d “never witnessed any such thing.” 

Hallinan said he’d been assaulted in front of Armstrong, Grisham’s campaign adviseer Dominick Cabello and two staffers.

The governor’s spokeswoman, Nora Meyers Sackett, said: “We’re a rambunctious bunch. I think they were playing around with water.”

In a later statement, Sackett said Hallinan’s employment “was marked by frequent and repeated incidents of inappropriate and unprofessional behavior.

But Hallinan alleged Grisham had a history of bullying and abusing her staff. “I’ve seen adult human beings literally convulse and shake and try not to cry after being berated by her in front of people. She would berate us and belittle us and shame us, publicly and privately.


“It’s really hard. It wears on us. I make mistakes. But I’ll tell you what, this has eaten at me. It has destroyed me,” Hallinan said.

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