- Associated Press - Thursday, November 6, 2014

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Human Services Secretary Sidonie Squier is leaving her cabinet-level job in Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration after coming under fire for more than a year for her management of an agency that administers the state’s largest health care program.

The governor’s office on Thursday announced Squier’s resignation, which is effective Dec. 1. She has held the post since the Republican governor took office in 2011.

“This has been the most exciting and fulfilling job I’ve had throughout my career, and I simply feel that now, during this transition period, is the most appropriate time to move on,” Squier said in a statement. “Our team has accomplished a great deal during a period of intense changes in health care.”

Martinez won re-election this week, and it’s not uncommon for turnover in top government officials when a governor enters a second term.

The Human Services Department administers a $6 billion budget to operate Medicaid, food stamps and other welfare assistance programs. Medicaid provides health care to about 730,000 low-income New Mexicans, many of them children.

During Squier’s tenure, New Mexico tried to slow cost increases while expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income adults and overhauling the program to try to improve health care for needy New Mexicans.

Squier, a former U.S. Department of Health and Human Services director, has faced criticism for halting Medicaid payments last year to more than a dozen mental health providers because of allegations of fraud, mismanagement and overbillings.

Legislators have complained that providers weren’t given a chance to respond to the allegations before the state froze their payments. Some providers went out of business. Social program advocates and legislators contend that services were disrupted for some needy New Mexicans although the state disputes that. The department contracted with Arizona companies to take over for the suspended providers.

The attorney general’s office continues to investigate the allegations but has found no fraud by two providers. Some overbillings were identified.

A Democratic legislative leader last year called for Squier’s resignation for her comments in an email that there’s no “significant evidence of hunger in New Mexico.” Squier later said her email was poorly worded and she acknowledged there is a child hunger problem in the state.

In a letter to the governor dated Wednesday, Squier described her position as the “the hardest job of my dreams, but the happiest time of my career.”

Martinez praised Squier’s accomplishments.

“Her leadership has been valuable and important during all of the health care changes going on in our country, and I wish her the very best in her future work,” the governor said in a statement.

Enrique Knell, a spokesman for the governor, said the administration hopes to have a permanent replacement for Squier by the time she leaves the post.

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