PUEBLO — Dr. Sallette Thompson is a psychologist at the Colorado Mental Health Hospital in Pueblo (CMHHIP). For the past seven months, she hasn't reported for work at the hospital but is still getting paid.
She's one of several employees who've been placed on investigatory administrative leave at the hospital as it's faced a variety of staffing issues.
Thompson said it's the second time she's been placed on administrative leave during the four years she's worked at the hospital. In 2021, she was placed on leave after filing a report for treatment of a patient. She was out for three months.
This time, it's already been more than twice as long.
"I was like oh, no, again?" Thompson said, "It's a very embarrassing, humiliating process. You have to turn in your keys. You have to turn in your badge. You're not allowed to talk to anyone."
Thompson said this time, she's left with more questions. She's not completely clear on why she's out on leave and said she's had minimal contact during this time. About every six weeks she receives a notification saying her administrative leave has been extended.
"I was told it was a main, which is a major abuse neglect complaint, but that's usually what they're all called. I mean, it isn't I'm not trying to minimize [it], but it isn't unusual for patients with severe mental illness or antisocial personality disorder, things like that, to have some transference with their psychologist who works with them and blame them for things that are happening to them," Thompson said.
Thompson describes being on administrative leave as an isolating experience, she's not allowed to reach out to current employees and is expected to be within two hours of the hospital.
"It's almost like being shunned from a religious community or something like that. It's similar, what I would imagine is a similar feeling," Thompson said
News5Investigates first started asking questions last month about the number of employees on administrative leave at the hospital after multiple sources told News5 it's become a recurring practice.
An initial request asking for the number of employees on administrative leave at the hospital from 2019 to 2023 was met with the following response: "The Department has no responsive records to this portion of your request, these actions are not tracked in a central location to query".
News5Investigates then asked for notifications made to the Department of Human Services for any employee on investigatory administrative leave for more than 20 working days. It received two spreadsheets for 2022 and 2023, with all employee names redacted. Requests for email notifications about investigatory administration leave included a quote for $53,875.
CMHHIP CEO Jill Marshall agreed to an on-camera interview with News5Investigates. When asked about the number of people on administrative leave Marshall said 12 employees were on administrative leave at some point in the month of September.
"That number is going to wax and wane depending on any given day. So if there were 12 out for the month of September, some of them could be out for a few hours, some of them could be out for one day, so it's not 12 at all at the same time." Marshall said.
Some employees on administrative leave are in high-paying jobs, paying six figures a year, and are on leave for months at a time. With the hospital facing its own staffing issues, News5Investigates asked about the impact of employees being out on administrative leave for an extended period of time.
"Well, it's less than one percent that are out for administrative leave like for the month of September. So the impact is really fairly minimal to our staff and patients," Marshall said, "we don't like to have our staff out that long, we do have to compensate for that. We do have to ensure that if someone is pulled out of patient care, then there's somebody to pick up that difference," Marshall said.
As for employees like Thompson, the seven months on leave has been long, and she's hoping for some answers soon.
"I understand that concept of, well, you're getting paid, you're getting paid vacation. But people forget that this impacts my reputation in the community. This impacts my mental health," Thompson said.
Recently, News5 requested employment applications for employees placed on administrative leave. DHS said the records would be provided, but redacted. News5 reached out to the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition (CFOIC) which also agreed those records should be public and is working to get those records obtained.
Have a story you'd like News5 Investigates to look into? Send an email to News5Investigates@KOAA.com.
Watch KOAA News5 on your time, anytime with our free streaming app available for your Roku, FireTV, AppleTV and Android TV. Just search KOAA News5, download and start watching.