01STOCK_ROCKHAVEN01

Rock Haven

JANESVILLE

A Rock County Board ad-hoc committee plans to give Rock Haven employees and local residents a forum to sound off on recent upheaval at the county-run nursing home.

On Wednesday, the Future of Rock Haven Committee is holding a public listening session on the state of the facility.

County board Supervisor Yuri Rashkin, one of the ad-hoc committee members who organized the session, said the meeting will give people, Rock Haven employees included, a forum to air concerns.

It comes in the wake of Rock Haven’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate, which the county board voted last month to keep intact. Since the mandate was enacted, it has led to an exodus of dozens of employees from the nursing home.

The Future of Rock Haven committee was formed in late 2019 to give a public window into the operations at Rock Haven during a time when some staff there said they felt under duress after an employee faced firing over a disciplinary issue involving $10 of toilet paper.

Rashkin has opposed the vaccination mandate, but he said he doesn’t conceive the committee’s session on Wednesday as a debate or referendum on the mandate.

He said he hopes the meeting addresses a pervasive concern he has heard from some Rock Haven employees that they continue working under a cloud of fear of “retaliation” by the nursing home’s top officials.

“Morale at Rock Haven is of the two reasons for this ad hoc committee’s existence. I think that we continue to have a very real problem with Rock Haven with people wanting to be excited to work there,” Rashkin said.

“We can’t reach that (vaccination mandate) vote now. The board’s vote is what it is. So we need to move forward. And as far as this moving forward, I think we need to show that as elected officials that we care about what people think.”

The committee had been inactive since early 2020 but reconvened for the first time in a year Jan. 28, the same day the county board was set to discuss a resolution to repeal the mandate.

The board voted during a contentious, five-hour meeting to leave the mandate in place but allow exemptions required under federal labor law for people who choose to decline the vaccine for certain health or religious reasons.

It meant that last week, Rock Haven workers were again facing a vaccine requirement as Rock Haven rolled out its second wave of doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. Some employees said they didn’t want the vaccine because it still lacks full federal approval and hasn’t been in use long enough for the public to gauge whether it might have adverse, long-term side effects.

Rock Haven’s continued vaccine rollout last week prompted the nursing home’s second wave of layoffs and resignations in a month’s time, this time by 20 staff who declined the vaccine but didn’t meet exemptions.

Overall, about 10% of the nursing home’s staff has exited since the mandate went in place, including nursing staff and one of the nursing home’s two social workers, employees have said.

Some remaining employees have told The Gazette the vaccination fallout has created a staffing crunch that has doubled their daily caseload of residents and created pressures that has them wondering if more Rock Haven workers will flee their jobs.

Since the Future of Rock Haven committee was formed in 2019, the nursing home has seen two administrators and a former medical director leave, and Rock Haven is now under interim leadership.

Rashkin said those circumstances plus the furor over the vaccine mandate have all prompted a relaunch of the Future of Rock Haven committee’s focus on employee morale.

It starts with the public listening session this week, Rashkin said, but he hopes it continues with creation of some benchmarks the county can use to gauge if attempts to change the workplace culture at Rock Haven are successful.

“The committee had held off to see if things went in another direction with another director, but it was another director leaving, another director changing, and all of a sudden we’re standing here in front of another crisis,” Rashkin said. “But at least we have the committee already.”

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