About 10% of Rock Haven’s employees have now quit or been laid off as dozens of them continue to resist the COVID-19 vaccination mandate at the Rock County-run nursing home, employees say.
The long-term skilled nursing facility continues to wrestle with fallout from the controversial mandate enacted in December and adjusted by the Rock County Board last week to include exemptions for people with underlying health concerns or religious objections.
On Tuesday, Rock Haven received its second batch of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine and rolled out what was to be the nursing home’s second wave of mandatory staff vaccination.
In an email to The Gazette on Tuesday evening, Sara Beran, the interim administrator at Rock Haven, said 19 employees who declined vaccines Tuesday either quit or took layoffs, including 13 nursing staff.
Nine of the nursing staff were laid off and four resigned, Beran said.
That brings staff resignations and layoffs linked to the vaccine mandate to 24 since the nursing home began distributing staff vaccines in early January.
In all, about 198 people worked at Rock Haven as of late last year, Michelle Lynch, a Rock Haven administrative employee who handles staffing, told The Gazette.
Lynch said the exodus has cut deep into the ranks of Rock Haven’s nursing staff.
Ashley Kabor, a manager in Rock Haven’s financial office, said some employees are now worried about how the nursing home will care for its most infirm residents in the near term.
“I have never seen anything that’s happened here before that’s brought on a situation like this, where we basically lost 20 staff in one day,” Kabor said. “Staff’s biggest concern right now is how our resident needs are going to be met because the question is if staffing levels are safe at this point.”
Lynch said staffing reports show the nursing home’s four residential pods normally have 20 certified nursing assistants, but as of Tuesday, upcoming shift schedules show seven of the 20 slots are vacant.
Lynch believes those vacancies are all tied to employees declining to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Beran said in her email that Rock Haven granted vaccine exemptions for 17 employees Tuesday, but her email did not make clear whether all those workers plan to continue working at Rock Haven.
She said five employees laid off in January after declining the vaccine have not told Rock Haven whether they want to “return to their posts with accommodations.”
Lynch said Rock Haven workers worry the exodus of nursing staff could create complex problems, including a conundrum for employees responsible for caring for residents who can’t move out of a bed or a chair without help.
She said she believes Rock Haven’s current emergency staffing plan would leave some blocks of 16 residents with just one nursing assistant to move residents who would need help sitting or standing. Nursing home regulations require two people to move some residents, she added.
“You cannot get people washed up or get them in a wheelchair and you cannot put them on the toilet, or you’d get written up for a policy violations. How safe is that?” Lynch said.
Before the Rock County Board voted late Thursday to allow staff to decline the vaccine if they’re pregnant or have health concerns or religious objections, Rock County Administrator Josh Smith said the county thought about five additional Rock Haven employees intended to decline the vaccine when more doses became available.
By Tuesday, it became clear that far more than five people—mostly employees who didn’t meet the exemption requirements—decided to decline the vaccine “on principle,” Kabor said.
Kabor said most who declined did so because they are concerned that not enough is known about possible long-term effects of the shots, which have received federal emergency-use authorization.
Health officials say they believe the vaccine is safe. A small number of the millions of people who have received it have reported adverse reactions.
Lynch said the exodus of workers she knew of on Tuesday was “just the people who filled out the (vaccine) refusal forms.”
“I don’t know how many people out there are actually not going to come in and refuse (the vaccine) and are just going to take the layoff letter,” Lynch said.
Neighboring county governments, including Walworth County, have opted not to mandate COVID-19 vaccination at their county-run nursing homes. Several privately run nursing homes in the area told The Gazette they weren’t mandating staff vaccination.
In a report to the Rock County Board last week, Beran indicated that Rock Haven was prepared to bring in contract staff if necessary to maintain mandated staffing levels.
Lynch said reports she has seen show the medical staffing agency Rock Haven uses so far has supplied one employee to fill vacancies resulting from the mandate. She said two other potential hires last month turned down jobs at Rock Haven because they didn’t want the COVID-19 vaccine.
Rock Haven’s mandate came after 48 nursing home employees tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 last year. Thirteen Rock Haven residents tested positive for the virus last year, and two residents died from COVID-19, the county reported.
Beran told the county board last week that contact tracing showed all 13 residents likely had contracted the virus from exposure to infected staff.