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News5 fights for open records in CMHHIP investigation

Colorado Mental Health Hospital in Pueblo
Posted at 10:00 AM, Dec 31, 2023
and last updated 2024-01-02 15:38:15-05

PUEBLO — News5 is going to court over public records to try and learn more about employees placed on administrative leave at the Colorado Mental Health Hospital in Pueblo (CMMHIP).

News5Investigates began looking into the CMHHIP in June of 2023, and that's when employees and nurses at the hospital reached out to News5 over a schedule re-bid happening to state-employed nurses.

Through the course of the investigation, News5Investigates discovered the hospital went more than $13 million over budget staffing the hospital with contract employees. Oftentimes, the contract employees were paid more than state employees and had more flexibility with their hours.

Other employees started reaching out to News5Investigates with concerns at the hospital, including the number of employees employed by the hospital but not working as they're placed on paid administrative leave for an investigation, in some cases, for months at a time.

In September, News5Investigates submitted several Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) requests to learn and confirm the number of employees on paid administrative leave. Initial records requested received a response saying there were no responsive records as the number of employees on administrative leave was not tracked in a central location.

News5Investigates learned at least some of the employees are tracked as the Department of Human Services has to notify the state if someone is on administrative leave for more than 20 working days. That data was sent to News5Investigates with all employee names redacted.

In a separate request, News5Investigates requested employment applications, which are public records for employees placed on administrative leave. News5Investigates was told the records could be produced, but names would be redacted once again.

That's when News5 reached out to the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition. Attorney Steve Zansberg wrote to the Department of Human Services explaining why these records are public and should not be redacted. CDHS still denied producing the unredacted records.

In Colorado, when an agency denies records, the only other option is to file a lawsuit. News5 is now in litigation with the Department of Human Services to receive these records.

When News5Investigates sat down with hospital CEO Jill Marshall in October, she said there were about 12 employees on administrative leave at some point in September. When asked how that number was tracked down, she said the numbers were provided by human resources.

"So it's not something that we track at the hospital because people go out for administrative leave for a variety of reasons, and it's used for a variety of reasons. So we were able to obtain that through the human resources department at CDHS," Marshall said.

In December, News5Investigates submitted another records request, this time asking for resignation letters of employees News5Investigates had learned were on administrative leave as well as all resignation letters in the past six months. Some of the letters were withheld, citing the lawsuit.

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Related: Overspent: Pueblo Mental Health Hospital goes $13M over budget on temp employees

Related: CMHHIP employees placed on administrative leave for months at a time

Related: Employees continue to wait for answers on administrative leave

Related: Mental health hospital operating with half of its psychologist positions


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