Corrections officer title will change to ‘clinical safety specialist’ at Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo

Article originally appeared on KKTV 11 News

PUEBLO, Colo. (KKTV) – A change in title and duties are expected for corrections officers at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo.

In a letter sent out to employees at the Pueblo location Wednesday morning and obtained by 11 News, the title of corrections officer will be changed to Clinical Safety Specialist (CSS). The change is expected to impact about 45 staff members.

In the letter sent by Robert Werthwein, the Director for the Office of Behavioral Health, the policy describing the specific role and management of the new CSSs is still being drafted.

“This change is, in part, intended to provide CSSs an opportunity to build rapport with patients by engaging in the support services that bolster the care of those patients. Specifically, this rapport building can be achieved by assisting with room checks, shower checks, escorting patients to other areas within the hospital, and other milieu management functions,” part of the letter from Werthwein reads.

The official change is expected to take place in February.

“In a psychiatric hospital, safety is the responsibility of not just the ward officers who are clinical safety specialists when we make this change in a couple of months, but also nursing staff who are trained to work and interact with patients who may become agitated or aggressive,” Werthwein told 11 News. “

The new role will be a “non-uniformed” position as CSSs serve as part of the clinical team rather than law enforcement.

“I think we have a certain comfort with seeing a police uniform or in this case a correctional uniform that doesn’t necessarily equal safety it just equals our own comfort in seeing that,” Werthwein added when talking to 11 News Reporter Danielle Kreutter.

Another part of the change means the current corrections officers are expected to transition out of the Department of Public Safety and into the Nursing Department.

“These changes will not reduce the emphasis on safety; however, they will ensure that the safety of patients and staff is provided with an emphasis on the therapeutic environment,” the letter states. “The changes will not impact the responsibilities of the correctional officers assigned to the Central Transport Unit or those that provide security at entry checkpoints and the perimeter.”

With the expected change for corrections officers comes changes to the Department of Public Safety Police. The letter reads police will still be present on the Pueblo campus, but the size of the police force will be limited to reflect those duties that can only be performed by police.

Officers will focus only on the following:

-Patient transportation

-Off-campus supervision of high-risk patients

-Investigations of alleged crimes on campus

Colorado Mental Health Institute of Pueblo Police will no longer respond to calls for service when dealing with unruly patients or patrol the campus for traffic violations.

Meetings are expected to be held in January to hear thoughts, concerns and ideas from employees.

The change in title and duties will not impact the pay for current corrections officers who will be making the transition to a CSS.

At this time, it isn’t clear if the change means jobs will be lost.

“The next steps for CMHIP police officers include assessing the number of police positions required to meet the reduced scope of work previously mentioned,” the letter reads. “In this assessment, current vacancies in the police officer classifications will be included. If the reductions identified are greater than the vacancies available, the Department will do everything within its ability to assist in finding new opportunities for any police officer affected by the change.”

Mental Health Colorado commends the change.

“The Colorado Office of Behavioral Health announced this week very significant changes in the way safety will be prioritized in the state mental hospital in Pueblo,” part of a statement from Mental Health Colorado reads. “Rather than continuing to staff the hospital with law enforcement officers—a historical practice which exacerbates confrontation, pollutes the therapeutic environment, and heightens the risk of injuries and further criminalization of mental health—the state hospital will be removing the role of correctional officer from patient units and maintaining safety by means of Clinical Safety Specialists (CSSs).”

There are two state-run mental health institutes in Colorado, one in Pueblo and one in Fort Logan.

You can watch an interview with Werthwein on 11 News at 10 on Dec. 17.