Rock County must undo ban on vaccine mandate or risk losing millions in federal funding for Rock Haven

JANESVILLE, Wis. – After nearly eight months, the ramifications of Rock County’s vaccine mandate for Rock Haven nursing home staff continue to pile on.

At the beginning of the new year, staff were informed they’d be required to get the shot. In the weeks that followed, dozens left. Eventually, a lawsuit seemed imminent.

In May, these impacts resulted in the Rock County board ruling by a 15-12 margin not only to remove the mandate, but to ban mandates in the future. In addition, employees who left were offered the opportunity to return.

Three months later, a new mandate is here, this time from the federal government.

Should Rock Haven not comply, they’d lose more than half of their $17 million in annual funding.

The first reaction was, we need that federal money,” said Rock County Board Chair Rich Bostwick.

Only, under the new rules the board adopted in May, they’re not able to mandate the vaccine – even when the orders are from the President.

Someone would have to bring forward a resolution which would undo our previous decision in May,” Bostwick said. 

Currently, 80.5 percent of Rock Haven employees eligible to work during the week of Aug 16 are vaccinated.

When we finally got around to revisiting the situation in May, things were starting to loosen up,” Bostwick said. “It looked like we were at the light at the end of the tunnel. We took the issue up again, and reversed it. I wasn’t really surprised by it knowing there was a lot of sentiment on the other side.”

Bostwick says while he’s frustrated with the way things have gone since then, he believes the board acted in its best interest at the time.

I’m not sure what other options were available,” Bostwick said. We voted the way we voted. I’ve made peace with it, and we move ahead – that’s the way we always operate.  

The ban on mandates could be overturned by a simple majority of the 29 county board members, possibly at a meeting at Sep. 23. Bostwick says should a decision need to be made sooner, the board could hold an emergency session.

People are still going to have their passions, and certain people will still think we don’t have any business mandating vaccines,” Bostwick said. “When you look at the reality of it, the financial component, if you take away 9 million from a 17 million dollar budget you’re not going to have a nursing home. It’s going to come down to finances, unfortunately.”

Bostwick says he is prepared for more Rock Haven employees to leave.

You have to look at the bigger picture,” he said. “Either we’re going to have a nursing home, or we’re not. If we are going to have one, and that means losing some employees, I’d hate to see that happen, but that’s a distinct possibility.”