Rock Haven staff used a listening session Wednesday night to take on the county-run nursing home’s administration, urging Rock County officials to halt what they call a culture of heavy-handedness, retaliation and bullying by top Rock Haven officials.
In an hourlong public listening session hosted virtually by an ad-hoc county committee called the Future of Rock Haven, nearly a dozen Rock Haven staff members poured out concerns as county supervisors listened.
Committee members had said last week they planned the session to hear about employee morale—not to debate Rock Haven’s controversial COVID-19 vaccination mandate—but staff and others who spoke Wednesday continued to press the county to lift the mandate.
The mandate has been at the center of a furor at the nursing home and has led to layoffs and resignations of dozens of employees who have declined the vaccine under the mandate.
Some employees say it has led to a shortfall of staff on some work shifts.
Elizabeth Snodie, a member of the nursing staff, said Wednesday she recently returned to duty after being laid off for declining the vaccine.
Snodie didn’t make clear the circumstances of her reinstatement, but upon returning to work, she said she found she was the only health care worker slated to work in her unit during one shift at the nursing home.
Snodie said she was worried some of the residents she is responsible for might not get adequate care.
And, she said, the situation might not improve until other employees who were laid off for declining the vaccine are reinstated. She asked for those still laid off to be reinstated and given back pay.
“The increased demands … will lead to staff burnout,” she said.
Under a county board resolution passed last month, Rock Haven has given exemptions to some staff who declined the vaccine. The exemptions are granted under existing labor protections for people who have health issues, are pregnant or have religious objections.
But Ashley Kabor, a financial office worker at Rock Haven, said “28” people were laid off or left Rock Haven over the mandate, and she said those remaining feel under the gun and bullied by administrators, which she said includes Sara Beran, the home’s interim administrator.
“We’re just existing,” Kabor said. “We’re all unessential.”
Kabor said employees should have a seat at the table during meetings of the county’s Health Services Committee, and she said she thinks the vaccination mandate should be lifted.
Otherwise, she said Rock Haven’s lone short-term solution to a staffing exodus will likely be hiring more contract staff, which she said would come at a premium cost to taxpayers.
The county has said it enacted the vaccine mandate to protect Rock Haven’s vulnerable residents from COVID-19 infection.
County officials have said they believe they’re legally able to mandate the vaccines for nursing home staff. Rock Haven employees have been the only county employees required to get the vaccine.
Two law firms have threatened lawsuits on behalf of the laid-off Rock Haven employees, arguing that mandating vaccines that only have federal emergency-use authorization is a violation of the workers’ constitutional rights.
Daleena Johnson, a registered nurse at Rock Haven, said she got a dose of the vaccine Jan. 5 and another Feb. 2, although she initially did so “under duress” because she was afraid of losing her job.
Johnson said Rock Haven’s administration started giving vaccines within days of mandating them, and she said administration left staff to their own devices to research the shots.
Some, like Johnson, had concerns and questions about a brand-new vaccine, but Johnson said when they went to Beran, she simply referred staff to the federal Centers For Disease Control and Prevention website.
Johnson said it shouldn’t have been that way. In the past, she said the nursing home gave staff education on the flu vaccine, a voluntary inoculation, and she said staff compliance for that program has been successful.
“We can’t make demands without providing people with information,” Johnson said.
Johnson was one of a handful of employees who said Wednesday they think Beran should resign or be removed. Others said Rock Haven’s final COVID-19 vaccination clinic is in March, and they think more staff will likely take layoffs or quit rather than get the vaccine.
Yuri Rashkin, a county supervisor on the Future of Rock Haven committee, said he doubted the county board would reverse its Jan. 28 decision to leave the mandate in place.
But he said it is possible the county might offer some “incentives” such as pay increases to staff.
And he and Mary Mawhinney, the board supervisor who chairs the ad-hoc committee, said the committee might meet again to further discuss Rock Haven staff concerns.
“We are listening,” Mawhinney said.