Rep. Varela Questions Health Secretary Torres

At a hearing, Varela cited the 'Open Letter' to Catherine Torres.

After staff from the Department of Health presented a budget proposal to the House Appropriations Committee yesterday, Rep. Lucky Varela, D-Santa Fe, questioned DOH Secretary Catherine Torres about an email message sent to 60 legislators and a dozen press members last week.


The email, sent by "Johnathan Publix," detailed a "toxic" and "hostile" work environment under Torres. It also published an "Open Letter" to Torres from "DOH employees."

"We'll have to get a response from the Department of Health on these allegations," Rep. Ray Begaye, D-San Juan, who sits on the Appropriations Committee, tells SFR. "That was the word that was put out. The secretary said, 'We'll look into it.'"

At the end of the hearing, Varela, deputy chair of the Appropriations Committee, says he raised the issue because of the email from "Publix," which was passed out to members of the committee.

"We indicated to [Torres] that these were concerns we had about functions of the department," Varela tells SFR. "That they needed to make sure they were treating employees fairly."

Both Begaye and Varela say the governor's office is aware of the letter. From a public records request, SFR recovered another letter of concern sent to Gov. Susana Martinez' constituent services on Dec. 16. The governor's office didn't return SFR's phone calls from earlier today.

At a Senate Finance Committee hearing this afternoon, Torres avoided questions after being approached by SFR.

For now, Varela says he'll give DOH time to work the problem out.

"We'll see whether the employees settle down," he says. "If this doesn't continue, we have to assume they worked things out with the employees."

Begaye concurs. He says he invites any employees to share their concerns with him "so we can really look into the allegations and really make that determination that there's something wrong in the system."

"A lot of the allegations right now to me don't have merits," Begaye says. "However, if there's substantial evidence that some of the occurrences are actually true, then that should be critically addressed to the governor and legislators."

Publix, for his or her part, recently created a "Bullying, Abuse, Retaliation and Fraud (BARF)" hotline for current and past employees to share anonymous tips. Its number is (505) 819-3501.

"We will keep everyone's anonymity and get the info to where it will do the most good," Publix writes in an SFR comment thread.

Photo courtesy Mark Wilson.

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