Covid vaccine mandates will critically worsen the current healthcare staffing shortages.

Have you seen headlines from other parts of the country about L&D units shutting down and hospitals on Critical Care diversion? This is already happening in La Crosse, and the Covid vaccine mandate will make it worse, not better.

Covid vaccine mandates:
  • Exacerbate critical healthcare staffing shortages
  • Disproportionately harm minority communities by pushing them out of the workforce, since they are the least vaccinated demographic
  • Are coercive and erode trust in the healthcare system

Who we are

We are a group of hundreds of healthcare workers from around the Coulee region. We come from a variety of political, religious, and racial backgrounds. We have diverse training and experience. We cook meals. We clean rooms. Many of us provide direct patient care, like nurses, CNAs, and respiratory therapists. Some of us are doctors and providers. Some of us have desk jobs. Some of us work from home. We all have one thing in common: we are opposed to mandatory Covid vaccination.

Who we aren't

As a group, we are not anti-vaccine. We are not offering healthcare advice, or taking a position on the Covid vaccine itself. We believe that healthcare decisions should be made between a patient and their provider on an individual basis.

What we want

Allow all medical, religious, and philosophical Covid vaccine exemptions without question.

If the current Covid vaccine mandates proceed unchanged, our community will suffer. Having enough staff is critical to providing top-notch patient care. Currently, Gundersen is offering travel nursing contracts for thousands of dollars a week. They are paying RNs to come in for extra shifts just to clean rooms. Imagine if that money had been spent giving low wage staff a much-deserved raise, instead of lowering their wages earlier this year? Gundersen leadership is reaping what it has sown; staff are leaving in droves, and patient care is being negatively impacted.

How you can help

If you believe that personal healthcare decisions should be between a patient and their doctor, speak up.

Aren't you a danger to your patients by not taking the Covid vaccine?

The Covid vaccines protect the recipient from severe illness; they do not prevent transmission. Fully vaccinated healthcare workers are testing positive for Covid on a regular basis. Fully vaccinated staff have transmitted Covid to patients at Gundersen. According to internal polling, a majority of local unvaccinated healthcare workers already have natural immunity, meaning they are unlikely to transmit Covid, despite being unvaccinated. With the Delta variant, viral loads (and transmissibility) seem to be similar regardless of vaccination status. Unvaccinated staff who haven't yet had Covid are more likely to be mildly symptomatic and know to stay home.

Why are you in healthcare if you don't believe in science?

Our belief in science is why we are taking this stand. We have devoted our lives to taking care of patients using the best resources that science has created, and we take pride in that. As stated above, we are not anti-vaccine or anti-Covid vaccine; we are a varied group of individuals who believe, for many different reasons, that this particular vaccine is not right for us at this time. We believe in evidence-based practice, individualized patient care, and informed consent. Vaccine mandates undermine all these core values.

Why don't you just go get another job that doesn't force you to get the vaccine?

The community needs healthcare workers desperately, and we are fighting to stay in those positions for our patients. Local healthcare facilities are increasingly short-staffed; they simply cannot sustain losing hundreds more. Hospital and clinic services will be shuttered, and patients will suffer.

Why don't you just get the shot? It's no big deal.

We do not make these decisions lightly. We have carefully considered our health history, our chronic conditions, our pregnancy/fertility status, our age, our beliefs, our natural immunity status, and many other factors. Our very careers are being leveraged against us. This is overt coercion. Where there is risk, there must be choice.

Are you just a selfish group of healthcare workers who won't protect your patients?

Despite the political rhetoric that portrays every unvaccinated person as ignorant and selfish, we are educated and compassionate. We hope to continue caring for our patients with respect and dedication.

For comparison

"Mandate" can mean many different things. For Pfizer, it means if you are not vaccinated, you are tested regularly, but you get to keep your job. Same with Federal employees - you have more restrictions like testing and masking, but you get to keep your job. So who actually fires staff for not being vaccinated? Update: the La Crosse Tribune correctly pointed out that mandate information on this website was outdated. Given the frequent changes in mandate policies around the country, this website will focus on Gundersen specifically.

Updates to Gundersen's "no exemptions" stance

  • July 2021: Gundersen says they will not impose a vaccine mandate
  • August 2021: Gundersen announced a vaccine mandate "up to and including termination."
  • September 2021: Gundersen grudgingly conceded a temporary pregnancy extension, with the requirement of being vaccinated before returning to work after maternity leave.
  • September 2021: Gundersen grudgingly conceded a temporary extension for those with natural immunity. However, obtaining this extension has been difficult - see below.
  • October 2021: Gundersen has started granting some religious exemptions.
  • November 2021: Gundersen suspended, then fired staff with denied exemptions
  • November 2021: Gundersen revoked their natural immunity exemption
  • December 2021: Gundersen is again considering natural immunity exemptions
  • December 2021: Despite federal stays on the OSHA and CMS vaccine mandates, Gundersen is forging ahead with their policy
Do I need to be vaccinated by November 1, 2021 if I have had COVID-19 and have natural immunity?
Gundersen has decided on a temporary extension of the deadline for compliance with the system COVID-19 vaccination requirementin those with proven immunity from prior infection. Staff are eligible for this extension:
  • If they have a documented SARS-CoV-2 infection ON or AFTER January 1, 2021
  • If they have a documented SARS-CoV-2 infection BEFORE January 1, 2021, AND provide further documentation of a positive antibody blood test completed AFTER July 1, 2021, to qualify.
Discussion: this concession by Gundersen is a hollow victory for the unvaccinated. Many staff will be unable to meet this criteria. Antibodies fade quickly for those with a mild case (and the vast majority of those who get Covid have a mild case). Loss of active antibodies does not mean loss of natural immunity, as demonstrated by several recent studies. Many staff have had undocumented cases of Covid for a variety of reasons: being asymptomatic, testing supply shortages, and the intentional avoidance of quarantine situations to protect tight staffing during the heights of last year's surge.

Gundersen's communication to staff that requested a religious exemption is startlingly hostile and antagonistic:
From: hrpartner
To: ▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓
Subject: Letter of Notification - Sincerely Held Religious Belief Accommodation Request

Your vaccination status form indicates that you have selected "sincerely held religious belief" as the reason to not receive the COVID-19 vaccination. This means that you hold a sincerely held religious belief, practice or observance that prevents you from receiving the current COVID-19 vaccines that are available. This is distinguished from a personal preference or political preference. If this information is incorrect or you have since changed your vaccination status, please provide an update on the electronic COVID-19 Vaccination Status form promptly.

The vaccines are the most powerful tool we have to prevent severe infection, hospitalization and death from this virus. We understand these are difficult, personal decisions involving medical care and religious beliefs, but the need to protect the safety of our patients, coworkers and community demands that Gundersen employees be vaccinated against COVID-19. For these reasons, Gundersen implemented the COVID-19 Vaccine Program Policy.

Applicable law requires an employer to accommodate an employee's religious beliefs unless granting the accommodation would impose more than a minimal cost or burden on the employer. First, the cost of unvaccinated healthcare workers is an issue of safety. Unvaccinated healthcare workers face an increased threat of exposure to COVID-19, such that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has described COVID-19 as a "grave danger" to healthcare workers. Unvaccinated healthcare workers also pose an increased threat of transmitting COVID-19 to vulnerable patients who may be at a higher risk of severe disease. Healthcare workers, and particularly those involved in direct patient care, face an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19. Stopping the spread of COVID-19 in healthcare settings is critically important because of the concentration of people in many of these settings and the presence of people with underlying conditions or compromised immune systems. Gundersen takes this issue of safety very seriously.

There are other costs of unvaccinated employees as well. The cost of a hospital bed or other healthcare service that is taken by an unvaccinated healthcare worker who contracted COVID-19 is significant. As you know, our healthcare services and the number of beds available are strained by our high daily census. There is also a monetary cost to care for an unvaccinated healthcare worker that must be borne by Gundersen as the provider of health insurance benefits. Both in terms of consumption of limited healthcare services, as well as the monetary cost, that is a significant burden. Since the risk of infection is higher in unvaccinated employees, even if they are not hospitalized, their absence during illness or quarantine creates an additional burden on the remaining employees.

The legal threshold to show a burden on the employer for purposes of a religious accommodation is much lower than the legal threshold to show a burden for purposes of a disability accommodation. The threat to the safety of our employees, patients and the community is real.

Your request for an accommodation - to remain unvaccinated - poses an undue hardship for Gundersen. We need you to recognize that, and seriously consider whether your religious belief is such that it justifies the very real threat to the safety of your coworkers, our patients and the community.

It is Gundersen's expectation that you abide by the Employee Compact and were truthful in your status designation. If you applied for a status which was false, you will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination.

The purpose of this letter is to inform you that your request for a sincerely held religious belief accommodation is granted for a limited period of time. Your request is granted temporarily despite the fact that it is a hardship for Gundersen.

As you are aware, there are ever evolving regulations and information from medical, religious and governmental bodies regarding the vaccine. Should new vaccines be developed that do not conflict with your sincerely held religious beliefs, or should applicable law or regulations change that impact this temporary religious accommodation, we reserve the right to re-evaluate your request for an accommodation. Your request is an undue hardship for Gundersen, and we reserve the right to revoke the approval of this accommodation at any time.

Please note that you will receive communication and information within the next month or so regarding additional safety requirements or safety measures that you will need to be compliant with in order to continue to be granted this accommodation.

If you have any questions about Gundersen Health System’s position in this matter, please consult with your leader or contact hrpartner@gundersenhealth.org. You should also remember the Employee Assistance Program is available for you at (608) 775-4780 or 800-327-9991.

Gundersen Health System
cc: Religious Accommodation File


Wow. Stunning. Staff were reassured hundreds of times that they were safe at work via PPE protocols, and are now suddenly a "grave danger" and a "burden." Gundersen leadership routinely preaches "diversity, equity, and inclusion." Does this letter sound true to those values?

Let's look at another example of mixed messaging:

9/7/2021 Corporate Communication:
  • There is no current process to identify vaccinated/unvaccinated staff - we trust our PPE of masking and eye protection as an additional layer of protections, even for our vaccinated staff for all patient care.
  • All staff and patients are protected from COVID regardless of vaccine status using these measures.
9/8/2021 Dr. Rathgaber's Update:

1:40 - "Our measures of masking, distancing, and hand hygiene, while still necessary, are inadequate by themselves to keep us and our patients as safe as possible."

Last year, before the vaccines, frontline workers were told that to prevent the spread of Covid, we simply had to follow PPE guidelines: appropriate masks, goggles, and hand hygiene. This year, there is no cohesive message. Natural immunity is ignored. To ensure hospitals have adequate staffing, hospital leadership will fire unvaccinated staff. There are some dizzying mental gymnastics happening here, and the end result is truly unfortunate: loss of trust by staff, loss of trust by the community, and staffing shortages that negatively impact patient care. Logic and evidence are discarded in favor of rhetoric.

Our hospital leadership is failing its staff and the community. Low wage workers have already fled healthcare in droves, a perfectly reasonable decision given the toxic situation created by hospital leadership. These problems are getting worse, not better, as evidenced by the staggering number of current job postings at Gundersen, increasing daily. As Dr. Rathgaber himself recently stated with blindness to the irony, "facts are poor persuaders for those who have already set their beliefs."

Demand transparency from local healthcare providers.

Rhetoric, agendas, and gaslighting are the enemies of both science and informed consent. Both good science and good leadership are founded on transparency.
  • How many times has Covid been transmitted at the hospital, whether by staff or patient? What was the vaccination status of those involved?
  • Can Gundersen publicly explain relative vs absolute risk reduction, particularly for parents considering the vaccine for their child?
  • Can Gundersen share the ages, severity, and comorbidities of hospitalized Covid patients?
  • Are fully vaccinated VA patients and nursing home patients being counted as unvaccinated because their vaccination status isn't easily transferred between systems?
  • Are patients with "Overdue for dose three" listed in their chart counted as unvaccinated?
  • Can Gundersen distinguish between those hospitalized for Covid and those hospitalized with Covid? Currently, does broken hip + asymptomatic Covid = Covid patient?
  • How does the process for medical exemptions work? Who decides, and based off what criteria?
  • How does the process for religious exemptions work? Who decides what is a "sincerely held religious belief?" How long will "temporary" exemptions last?
  • What is Gundersen's plan to attract new staff to fill the current voids?


Like-minded Organizations

Rather than gathering names on a clipboard, we want to make an impactful statement about what is at stake with the Covid vaccine mandate. To do that, we want to create a picture petition of staff including a personalized message. You can remain anonymous if you would like - avoid having your face or badge in the picture.

Vaccinated staff that support us are welcome to join. If you have supportive coworkers, please ask them to participate!

If you work for a local healthcare provider and are opposed to Covid vaccine mandates, please contact us: couleemandate@protonmail.com.

Petition video

Sadly, my story is similar to others I’m reading on this page. Making that decision was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. I bawled so hard, the nurse almost refused to give me the shot. She said “I can’t give this to you against your will” and in between catching my breath, I replied “I have to do it to keep my job” and she explained she wasn’t busy and that I could take as much time as I needed… she was very compassionate and she hated being the one doing this to so many people… when I felt the crap go into my arm, it was the absolute worst feeling… received my first and only dose December 15th, the headache began that evening, saw family medicine doc one week later cause it hadn’t subsided, he sent me across the street for a CT scan to rule out a brain aneurysm… seriously… this can’t be happening… here I am, 18 days after the fact and the headache is still hanging on and majority of my day, it’s fierce and almost debilitating. I, too, am thankful for this page and the support from everyone… I pray no one else has to make the same awful decision that I, and others were forced to make… I used to be so proud to say “I’m a Mayo employee” but that joy has left my soul. I am not excited that I’ll be here in 2022. I’m going to miss those of you that will no longer be apart of the organization but I envy you and prayed like hell that I could’ve left, but it just didn’t work out that way for me.

Yesterday I had to conform. It was one of the most difficult decisions of my life. My husband is on disability, and leaving a secure job, working from home, and losing our security of insurance just seemed too much of a risk. I cried and was shaking as the nurse at Walgreens injected me with this "Vaccine". I am so thankful for this page and I admire each and everyone of you. It is so unbelievable what this world has become. I'm still at a loss for how any company feels the right to decide if my religious beliefs are what they say they are. God have mercy on their souls. Keep up the fight...in the end, we know God wins.
Website contact: couleemandate@protonmail.com

Sponsored by Coulee Region Healthcare Workers Against Covid Vaccine Mandates