The largest children’s hospital in Wisconsin has been struggling to care for patients in injured in the Waukesha Christmas parade attack on Nov. 21 in large part because of staffing shortages stemming from its COVID-19 vaccine mandate, multiple sources say.
Eighteen children were brought to the Children’s Wisconsin Milwaukee Hospital with injuries suffered when a driver plowed into parade-goers that Sunday afternoon. Several remain in critical or serious condition, and an eight-year-old boy died of his injuries Tuesday. As of Monday morning, the hospital was still treating seven victims.
Six people were killed when a suspect identified as Darrell E. Brooks, Jr. allegedly plowed into parade-goers approximately a week ago. He has been charged with first-degree intentional homicide and faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.
Sources at Children’s Wisconsin indicate that when victims first started to be transported to the hospital, it did not have enough nurses or support staff to adequately handle the sudden rush.
“It was a nightmare,” said one nurse, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she is not authorized to speak on the record. “We just don’t have enough people and [supervisors] were frantically calling in everyone they could, but it wasn’t enough. We are taking care of everyone the best we can, but it’s hard.”
A high-ranking official at Children’s, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said the hospital currently has hundreds of open positions and attributes much of the staffing shortage to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The Children’s Wisconsin website lists 239 open positions at its Milwaukee hospital and more than 450 across all of its campuses.
Earlier this fall, Children’s set a Nov. 15 deadline for all staff members to be vaccinated against COVID and boasted of 90 percent compliance. Children’s Wisconsin spokesman Andrew Brodzeller said in late October that any employee who was not fully vaccinated by Nov. 15 would be fired the following day.
“While we don’t want to lose a single team member, we recognize some small number may make the decision to not get vaccinated,” he explained.
Children’s Wisconsin has not released the number of employees who were fired as a result of non-compliance and has not yet responded to a request for comment on this story.
The hospital system’s religious exemption requests were due Sept. 15, and The MacIver Institute reported that more than 70 percent of them were denied. On Oct. 14, Children’s was forced to close its Delafield clinic until the end of the year because of severe staffing shortages.
“This is because of the mandate,” one source said flatly. “People either quit because their exemptions were denied or didn’t even bother to apply. They just started looking for other jobs.”
Earlier this month, the Biden administration demanded COVID-19 vaccines for all health-care workers employed at facilities that participate in the federal Medicare or Medicaid programs. The Biden administration’s health demands immediately provoked numerous lawsuits nationwide, with federal judges halting several such demands of various employers.
“Ensuring patient safety and protection from COVID-19 has been the focus of our efforts in combatting the pandemic and the constantly evolving challenges we’re seeing,” Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in a news release announcing the Biden administration demands of medical providers.
A nurse who was working last Sunday night said the staffing shortage was so severe that even Children’s President and CEO Dr. Peggy Troy was working the Emergency Department floor.
“I know it was partly ceremonial to say ‘We’re all in this together,’ but it was also because we just needed all the help we could get,” the nurse explained. “Dr. Troy was there until at least 2 a.m.”
The shortages continue, the nurse said, and are so severe that she and other nurses who volunteered to work an additional 12 hours over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend were offered $4,500 bonuses. The hospital official confirmed that administrators were giving out $1,000 bonuses to get nurses and other employees to work last Sunday night into Monday morning.
This nursing shortage is not unique to Children’s, as hospitals across the country have reported significant staffing struggles since the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdowns. However, the issue seems to have been dramatically exacerbated once hospital systems began requiring employees to be vaccinated.
The American Hospital Association reported in September that the number of full-time hospital employees dropped by 4 percent this year, but the cost of labor expenses for each patient has grown by 14 percent. As more nurses and other employees leave the workforce, hospitals have been forced to dramatically increase salaries to entice them to stay or lure new workers onto their staff.
One of the largest contributors is simply nurse burnout, as many have been overworked caring for COVID-19 patients in addition to the normal patient load. Nurses have also left the workforce amid a dramatic increase in unemployment benefits and COVID stimulus payments from the federal government.
But the major factor, multiple Children’s sources say, has been the vaccine mandate, as it has caused a sudden and dramatic decrease in staff levels.
“[Administrators] have been touting the fact that we have 90 percent compliance with the mandate,” one source said, “but that means that we have lost 10 percent of our workers.”