The same week that Rock Haven staff publicly raised concerns about current leadership and layoffs for workers who declined the COVID-19 vaccine, the county-run nursing home has learned of its new leader.

The Rock County Board on Thursday named new leaders for both Rock Haven and the Rock County Public Health Department.

The board approved the hiring of Natalie Rolling-Edlebeck as the new Rock Haven administrator and Katrina Harwood as the county’s new health officer. Rolling-Edlebeck’s annual salary will be $127,096, and Harwood’s will be $90,640.

Administrator’s strengths

Rolling-Edlebeck comes to Rock Haven after working as a veterans nursing home administrator in both Wisconsin and Texas. She served in the U.S. Army before retiring with the rank of major.

County Administrator Josh Smith said county staff who participated in virtual forums with the three finalists were impressed by her communication, leadership and organizational skills.

Rolling-Edlebeck will take over a staff that has expressed frustration with the facility’s vaccine rules and leadership. Smith said he believes Rolling-Edlebeck will handle the situation well.

“She’s aware of the attention right now that the facility is receiving, and she understands that,” he said. “I think she would approach this really like any opportunity to come in and prioritize establishing trusting relationships with staff right off the bat.

“You know, I see it as an opportunity for a fresh start, and hopefully staff see it that way, as well. And based on their feedback during the interview process, I think we’re in a good position to have a new leader come in and kind of reset a little bit out there.”

Eight people applied for the Rock Haven job, and four applicants were granted interviews. That pool was narrowed to three finalists before Rolling-Edlebeck was selected.

Rolling-Edlebeck starts March 22. She takes over for Interim Administrator Sara Beran, who has held the job since early December.

Smith said he thinks the nursing home is getting an “established” leader who will help boost morale and best practices. He specifically pointed to Rolling-Edlebeck’s master’s degree in human relations and bachelor’s degree in speech communications.

“I think she has strengths in communications that will serve her well at Rock Haven. Communication is often brought up as an issue at the nursing home, and so I think that she’s skilled in that area,” Smith said.

“We did a session with the (Rock Haven) employees as part of the interview process, and from feedback I got from staff, they were impressed with her and thought she would bring needed skills to the facility and seems like somebody who will prioritize engagement with staff, which is another area that obviously people are interested in,” he said. “She has some good skills for what we need right now.”

Health officer’s experience

Harwood, the county’s new health officer, knows Wisconsin well as a public health supervisor for Public Health Madison & Dane County, where she oversaw the nutritional program for women, infants and children. She previously worked in public health departments in Ohio and Iowa.

She replaces retiring Health Officer Marie Noel-Sandoval. Her last day on the job was Jan. 4, but she will be paid for vacation time through Monday.

Harwood has master’s degrees in public health and nutrition/health science and a bachelor’s degree in dietetics. Her first day of a one-year contract will be March 8.

“Really, what attracted us to Katrina was her focus on the future of public health as she really has an understanding of where public health is headed, and that was something that staff were really looking for in their new leader,” Smith said.

He said staff collaboration, openness with the public and a focus on health equity and diversity were some of the positives the hiring committee listed about Harwood.

The county received 21 applications for the position before interviewing four candidates. The list was narrowed to two finalists, including Harwood, but the other candidate withdrew.

“I am very excited for the opportunity to join Rock County as your new health officer. We all know that this past year has been so challenging in a variety of ways that we could have never expected,” Harwood told the board Thursday.

She added that it has been good to see people take an interest in public health during the pandemic.

“I’m very much looking forward to strengthening the partnerships that are currently in place to address the pandemic while working to build strategic partnerships to be more impactful addressing social determinants of health and health inequities,” Harwood said.