MADISON — Employees of a Rock County-owned nursing home would no longer be required to get COVID-19 vaccinations as a condition of employment under a new county board committee proposal.
The Rock County Health Services Committee this week voted 4-1 to recommend the county end its vaccination mandate at Rock Haven nursing home in Janesville, according to the Janesville Gazette The recommendation could go before the full board at the May 27 meeting.
Rock County faces civil liberty lawsuits after Rock Haven earlier this year demanded its staff get the COVID-19 shot or face the unemployment line. As of Wednesday, 14 employees remained laid off, the newspaper reported. Under the new policy, those employees will be offered their jobs back, although they may have to work in other areas of the nursing home.
As Wisconsin Spotlight reported, the New York-based Siri Glimstad law firm in February warned the county and the nursing home to end its restrictive policy.
“By implementing its vaccine mandate, your (facility) is attempting to coerce all of its employees into receiving one of the COVID-19 Vaccines,” Elizabeth Brehm, attorney for the firm wrote on behalf of Amber DeJaynes, a staff member at the Rock Haven skilled nursing facility in Janesville.
Sources close to the situation have told Wisconsin Spotlight nursing home administrators have bullied the staff with the policy. Employees were told they would not be eligible for unemployment benefits if they were laid off for refusing to receive the vaccine. Other sources claim some of the staff members suffered from “severe reactions” to the first shot, with one ending up in the Emergency Room.
In a letter to the county board, Rock Haven maintenance worker Ron Machaj said he knows of at least six employees who chose not to get the shot. He said one employee was laid off indefinitely, or until they comply with vaccination, and two chose to retire early, although they had not intended to do so. Another quit. That was in early January. The numbers have grown since.
“I have spoken with many others who felt they were strong-armed into getting vaccinated,” Machaj wrote.
Betty Halverson, in a letter written on Jan. 12, said she has been employed at Rock Haven for nearly 20 years. She said she’s 65 and has concerns about the vaccine, and she wasn’t getting good answers.
“My only option is to take a layoff and lose my insurance,” she wrote. “What kind of gratitude is that for an employee that has given almost 20 years to help care for our elderly and rehab residents, and worked many, many hours to help keep them safe.”
“Please do not make the COVID-(19) vaccine mandated. Let us decide.”
Wisconsin Spotlight was unable to reach the employees Thursday for comment.
Gov. Tony Evers has vetoed a Republican-led bill that would prevent health officials from requiring the COVID 19 vaccine. Earlier this week, he told the Racine Journal Times that a requirement for all Wisconsinites to get vaccinated against COVID-19 is “not going to happen” and that he believes “frankly, it won’t happen anywhere in the country.”