MADISON — Republican lawmakers say SSM Health is stonewalling them in their request for information about the health care system’s employee COVID-19 vaccination policies.
State Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac) says his Aug. 12 request to SSM leadership has been met with silence. He has joined Reps. Michael Schraa (R-Oshkosh) and Timothy Ramthun (R-Campbellsport) in submitting a letter asking for specific answers to a list of COVID-19 related questions. The letter and questions are based on concerns that have been raised by SSM Health employees and constituents of their districts, Thiesfeldt said in a statement.
“The policy enacted by SSM Health has led many employees to quit their jobs and many more are soon likely to be terminated from their positions. These actions have led to additional shortages of desperately needed healthcare workers at clinics and hospitals across Wisconsin,” the lawmaker said.
How the times have changed. Thiesfeldt said just a year ago nurses and doctors were being universally praised for safely working through the pandemic with no vaccine available. Now, SSM Health “is threatening termination for some of those same employees who only ask to make their own healthcare decisions.”
“I urge SSM Health to respond to our inquiry with answers as soon as possible,” Thiesfeldt said.
An SSM public-relations official did not return Empower Wisconsin’s request for comment on Monday.
Based in St. Louis, the non-profit SSM Health’s health care system includes some 10,000 providers and about 40,000 employees in four states — Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Illinois and Missouri. The system employs about 13,500 people in southern Wisconsin.
In a previous statement, Mo Kharbat, vice president of pharmacy services for SSM Health in Wisconsin said, “There is a vaccine that can prevent its spread.”
“We don’t want our patients coming to our hospitals thinking they may get the infection,” he said. “And one way for us to reassure our patients that this is a safe environment is when they know the health care providers who are taking care of them are vaccinated.”
Ascension Wisconsin and Mayo Clinic Health System also have announced mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for employees.
As Wisconsin Spotlight reported last week, La Crosse-based Gundersen Health System has given all of its 7,600 employees until Nov. 1 to get vaccinated or face firing. Some Gundersen staff have paid for a billboard urging the health care system to, “Prevent a Healthcare Staffing Crisis. Stop the Mandate.”
The American Nurses Association earlier this month sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services begging the agency to declare the ongoing nursing shortage a national crisis, citing overwhelmed health systems and burnt out staff, according to HealthCare Finance.
“ANA is deeply concerned that this severe shortage of nurses, especially in areas experiencing high numbers of COVID-19 cases, will have long-term repercussions for the profession, the entire healthcare delivery system, and ultimately, on the health of the nation,” the group wrote to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra.
Thiesfeldt earlier this session authored a bill that would have barred the government and employers from mandating the COVID-19 vaccine. He said he will continue to remind Gov. Tony Evers that he possesses “no sole authority to mandate any vaccination.”
“It has been a priority of mine to protect the individual liberty of the people of Wisconsin, especially their medical decisions, which are being threatened by Governor Evers and healthcare employers,” Thiesfeldt said.