MILWAUKEE — As some health care workers protest mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations, time is ticking down to comply with the requirements from most southeast Wisconsin health systems. Though a majority of workers at area hospitals have vaccines, there are still some health systems with a lot of unvaccinated employees.
For days now, hundreds of health care workers marched on the capitol in Madison against mandatory vaccines. Taylor Falesnik is a nursing assistant from Waukesha. She helped organize one of the protests. She is not vaccinated and doesn’t want to be forced to get it.
“A lot of us don't feel comfortable doing that and I don't want to work for an organization that's going to take my freedom of choice away that's not somewhere that I want to be,” said Falesnik.
Connie Smith works in the surgical department at a local hospital. She is also a member of the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, which has its own view on mandatory vaccines.
"I'm for the vaccine and they believe in the vaccine, they just don't believe in the mandation,” said Smith.
Union representatives say a majority of its members are vaccinated, but some choose not to get it.
"We've heard of a variety of reasons, are, ranging from personal choice and responsibility, they should be trusted to make the right choice and a majority of them have in making the choice to be vaccinated. We've also seen some of the same misinformation and bunk science that has made its way into this conversation unfortunately health care workers aren't immune from that,” said Jamie Lucas, executive director of the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals.
Vaccination rates for health care workers at the three of the hospital systems in Milwaukee County sit under 70 percent. Froedtert Hospital has the lowest number of employees vaccinated at 60 percent. Ascension Wisconsin and the Milwaukee VA have the same rate of workers vaccinated, 67-percent. Advocated Aurora Health Care choose not to provide data on their vaccination rate.
The hospital system with an overwhelmingly high number of vaccinations is UW Health in Dane County. Its staff has until November to get the vaccine
"Immunizing our employees really is a credit to our staff, we reached a vaccination rate of 90% well before we had that mandate out but also felt the mandate was the right thing to do,” said Dr. Aimee Becker, chief medical officer at UW Health.
Becker believes the open information policy helped to drive up their vaccine rate.
"We encourage staff to voice our questions concerns around the immunization and then really did our best to answer those questions through as many avenues as possible,” said Becker.
It is not enough though for people like Taylor who say she won’t change her mind about the vaccine.
"I am going to wait it out in hope set our protests and our voices will be heard and we're hoping that a lot of these organizations will retract their mandate, but if it comes down to it, and they don't, then I will be letting them terminate it,” said Taylor Falesnik.
It is a decision union representatives hope doesn’t have to happen.
"I think we have to strive towards meeting people where they're at encouraging normalizing incentivizing vaccination so that we're acting responsibly and building trust because we're in a race against time here and we have to, we have to move forward in the right way,” said Lucas.
All of the health systems have a medical or religious exemption to the vaccine. Here is the deadline for the COVID vaccines for each hospital system:
DEADLINES FOR MANDATORY COVID VACCINES
Milwaukee VA; Sept. 21
UW Health: Oct. 1
Froedtert Hospital: Nov. 1
Advocate Aurora Health: Oct. 15
Ascension Wisconsin: Nov. 12