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Wisconsin Spotlight | Feb. 2, 2021

MADISON — Employees at a Rock County owned  nursing home face a stark choice: They either get the COVID-19 vaccination or they lose their jobs.

That’s according a memo from Janseville’s Rock Haven skilled nursing facility administrators to all employees.

Today, nurses, CNAs, cooks, maintenance crews and other staff members at Rock Haven will have to receive their first or second doses of the Moderna vaccine or face layoffs. The final round of vaccines is scheduled one month from now, according to the memo, which was obtained by Wisconsin Spotlight.

Administrators say they’re merely applying the enforcement tools laid out by county ordinance, which drives home the need for state legislation prohibiting forced COVID-19 vaccinations, critics say.

We appreciate your cooperation’

“The completion of this two-step vaccine series is a requirement for all staff. Failure to meet these requirements will result in the employee being laid off as described in Rock County Ordinance 18.613(d) – The appointing authority may layoff an employee when an employee can no longer perform the essential functions of the job,” the memo states. “A laid off employee will not be eligible to return to work until they have completed the COVID-19 vaccine series.”

Sources say several employees have been shown the door for refusing to get the vaccine. Some have quit. Others are conflicted.

Sara Beran, Registered Nurse and interim nursing home administrator, did not return a call seeking comment.

In the memo, sent out two days before Christmas, Beran notes Walgreens was slated to have fives pharmacists on site to begin vaccinating all nursing home residents and some staff members on Jan. 5.

“We appreciate your cooperation and dedication to keep our staff and vulnerable residents safe,” Beran said.

Legislative protection

Nursing homes and other long-term care residents are in the highest risk category for COVID-19. As of Monday, 30 percent of Wisconsin’s COVID-19-related deaths have occurred at long-term care facilities, according to the state Department of Health Services. 

But making employees get vaccinated as a condition of employment is a bridge too far for civil liberties advocates.

Several Republican lawmakers have introduced a bill that would prohibit mandatory vaccination for employment. The bill recently passed out of the Senate Committee on Human Resources, Children and Families. Similar protections for employees also are included in an amended COVID-19 relief package passed by the Republican-controlled Assembly last week.

Sen. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere), chairman of the Human Resources committee, said he introduced the legislation to ensure state residents are not forced to decide between vaccinations and employment.

“It is imperative that a person’s choice of whether or not to receive a COVID-19 vaccine does not impact their ability to make a living and provide for their family,” he said in testimony before the committee.

For many, there are legitimate fears and concerns about the side effects of the vaccines, approved at breakneck speeds.

Side effects

The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There have been a reported 232 deaths associated with COVID-19 vaccines, according to the VAERS data. The majority of those deaths were in nursing home residents. There have been 115 anaphylactic reactions, 30 reported incidence of cardiac arrest, 493 arthralgia (joint pain), and 114 reported cases of COVID-19, according to the CDC volunteer reporting system.

The CDC notes the VAERS reports alone cannot be used to determine whether a vaccine has caused or contributed to an adverse effect or illness, that the reports may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable.

“Findings suggest that short-term mortality rates appear unrelated to vaccination for COVID-19 in skilled nursing facility residents,” according to a Brown University School of Public Health study. 

But the worries are real, Jacque said.

“Vaccines can kill or make some people with auto-immune disorders, such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome, very sick,” the senator said.

“The possibility that someone could lose their job for not being injected with a COVID vaccine is not hypothetical, but all too real. In fact it has already taken place for several employees earlier this month in Wisconsin at a county-run facility in Janesville, despite some of their co-workers who took the vaccine having reported adverse reactions.”

‘With no other choice’

Sources who spoke to Wisconsin Spotlight said the memo on the mandated vaccines was sent out a day before Christmas Eve, just as administrators conveniently took their holiday vacations. Employees had a little over a week to decide.

They say the mandate has created a staffing shortage at Rock Haven.

“Not only are we concerned about the conscience rights of the staff persons (many of the nurses and CNAs are single mothers raising young children), we are also concerned about the level of care the patients are receiving with reduced staffing levels,” said sources with knowledge of the situation.

Wisconsin Spotlight obtained some letters from employees who expressed to county officials their objections to the mandatory policy. One wrote that she has been a Rock Haven employe for 32 years.

“I have given up time on holidays and weekends for Rock Haven. I feel like no one cares,” the employee wrote. “We were bullied or blackmailed into either take the vaccine or lose your job. So I’m forced into retirement. I wasn’t ready to retire but you leave me no choice.”


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