FRI AM News: Some business groups criticizing vaccine mandate; Vaccine mandate expected to exacerbate staffing shortage for long-term care in Wisconsin

— Some business groups in the state are criticizing the Biden administration’s vaccination and testing mandate, arguing it places an unfair burden on employers. 

“It is unfortunate that the Biden Administration is forcing employers to police the vaccination status of their employees with a rule that will regrettably intensify the workforce challenges already plaguing our economy,” said Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce President and CEO Kurt Bauer in a statement. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration released its emergency temporary standard yesterday detailing the mandate, which goes into effect Jan. 4. Employers with more than 100 workers will be affected. Under the mandate, employers must ensure their workers are vaccinated or provide weekly negative COVID-19 test results. Unvaccinated employees covered by the mandate will also need to wear masks at work starting Dec. 5. 

Bauer says this rule will “place undue and unfair burdens on businesses who have already gone to great lengths and expense” to protect their employees amid the ongoing pandemic. 

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce says it shares the president’s goal of boosting vaccination rates among eligible recipients. In a statement, the organization notes the COVID-19 vaccines have “been proven safe and effective” and represent the best way to deal with the pandemic. 

“However, there are significant regulatory, logistical and human resource issues that accompany this mandate on businesses, not to mention the financial burden of potential fines,” MMAC said in a statement. “We will continue to encourage everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated, but this mandate shifts the burden of convincing people to get vaccinated almost entirely to our business community.“

Of the 38,600 private sector business establishments in the metro Milwaukee area, about 1,400 have 100 or more employees, according to MMAC. 

Meanwhile, Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce President Zach Brandon says vaccines represent “the only real path forward.” He said the chamber is still reviewing the mandate’s language and is engaging with members to understand potential impacts “including further challenges for businesses in getting people to return to work, impacts on small businesses, and remaining questions around compliance and enforcement.”

Brandon notes more than 90 percent of adults in Dane County have received at least one vaccine dose, adding that “many of our largest employers have already announced vaccination requirements for their teams.” 

— Long-term care organizations in Wisconsin warn the industry’s staffing shortage will be amplified by the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate once it goes into effect Jan. 4. 

“It’s unlikely we’re going to be achieving 100 percent vaccination rate by January 4, just because individuals still have the right to decide if they’re going to be vaccinated or not,” said John Sauer, president and CEO of LeadingAge Wisconsin. “The regulation holds facilities accountable for individuals’ decision-making regarding the vaccine.” 

In an interview yesterday, Sauer explained the mandate applies to certified Medicaid and Medicare providers, including about 355 nursing facilities in Wisconsin and hundreds of other care providers in the state such as clinics, hospices, ambulatory surgical centers, rehabilitation centers and many more. 

Sauer said he believes the intent of the mandate is “appropriate,” and noted long-term care providers in the state have been working to increase staff vaccination rates. He said nearly 68 percent of nursing facility staff in Wisconsin are currently vaccinated, but added that many who aren’t say “no amount of encouragement, incentives or education” will convince them to get a COVID-19 vaccine. 

Rick Abrams, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Health Care Association/Wisconsin Center for Assisted Living, says the organization is “very concerned” that the rule will cause these employees to leave the industry. 

“While stemming the spread of COVID infection in long term care facilities and in our community generally is a critically important public health priority, I would submit that ensuring that there is adequate staff to provide a safe environment where consistent high quality health care is provided to our State’s most vulnerable residents is a higher priority,” Abrams said in a statement. “I am deeply concerned that CMS’ interim final rule will compromise this higher patient care priority.” 

After Jan. 4, nursing facilities will start being inspected, Sauer said, and staff vaccination rates will be reviewed. If that rate is under 100 percent excluding exempted workers, some level of enforcement will be taken, he said. That can include civil monitoring penalties, denial of payments through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and potential termination from the program. 

“What we’re seeking clarification on is what about steps below those significant and somewhat permanent penalties,” he said. “Will the regulatory system allow for a plan of correction that gives the provider additional time without facing a significant fine or penalty, such that the facility will be able to work with staff over a longer period of time to try and achieve a higher vaccination rate?” 

He argues the approach of mandating the vaccine “has a blind eye towards the staffing crisis” that’s already straining the capacity of long-term care. 

“Even if we only lose, you know, 5 percent of our workforce … that’s 5 percent that we can’t afford to lose,” he said. “That’s the reality in which we operate today. The entire health and long-term care system is incredibly stressed right now because of the workforce crisis.” 

Because employers will bear the brunt of enforcement actions, Sauer said he thinks “some allowances, some accomodation and some additional time to try and achieve compliance” are needed for the long-term care industry.

He also said the mandate would create an “uneven playing field,” as assisted living providers with fewer than 100 employees wouldn’t be included because they’re not certified Medicaid and Medicare providers. They receive Medicaid funding through the Family Care program, but that money is provided through a waiver program granted by the federal government, he explained.

“But you do not need to be a certified Medicaid provider in order to receive those funds,” Sauer said. “In our state you might be licensed or registered as an assisted living provider but you’re not a certified Medicaid provider, per say. And that’s the area where the federal system does not reach.” 

Abrams added that if many unvaccinated workers choose to leave the industry, an existing bottleneck of patients in hospitals will worsen. 

“Our long term care facilities will not accept for admission anyone for whom they cannot absolutely ensure a safe environment where quality health care is provided,” he said. 

See a recent story on the bottleneck: 

— This week’s episode of “WisBusiness: the Podcast” is with Robb Kahl, executive director of Wisconsin Infrastructure Investment Now and the Construction Business Group. 

He discusses the biggest takeaways from a recent Forward Analytics report highlighting the economic benefit of hiring in-state workers for solar energy construction projects. The report found the impact could be as much as twice as large from a local workforce. Kahl discusses the importance of these findings for the state’s economy. 

He also highlights the apprenticeship opportunities that are supported by these Wisconsin jobs. 

“The apprenticeships are funded by the trades and their contractors, and that’s how people learn to work in this industry, is getting on-the-job training,” he said. “They can’t do that if they’re not given the chance, and we can’t fund the apprenticeship if they don’t do the job.” 

Listen to the podcast here: 

See a full list of podcasts: 

See an earlier story on the report: 

— Wisconsin was one of just 13 states to see September tourism spending improve over 2019, a release from the governor’s office shows.

With a 1 percent increase, September was the first month since the pandemic began in which the state had a year-over-year improvement in tourism spending relative to 2019, according to the release.

“We’ve put more than $200 million in federal recovery funds toward helping our tourism and hospitality industries get through this pandemic and bounce back, and I’m proud of our work to help support our economic recovery,” Gov. Tony Evers said in the release.

By comparison, tourism spending in Illinois was 21 percent lower in September than in the same month in 2019, and spending in Minnesota was 20 percent lower. Meanwhile, Iowa and Michigan saw decreases of 5 percent and 3 percent, respectively. The national average for September was 9 percent lower, the release shows.

“While meetings and conventions and other large group gatherings are slow to return, leisure travelers are making up for it by spending their time and their dollars in Wisconsin,” said Tourism Secretary-designee Anne Sayers.

See the release:

— The Young Enterprising Society’s Blueprint program is putting a focus on developing ideas and market validation for products being developed by participating entrepreneurs. 

YES co-founders and brothers Khalif and Que El-Amin discussed the program yesterday during the Early Stage Symposium, held in Madison by the Wisconsin Technology Council. Like many others, the startup accelerator program for diverse founders went virtual for part of last year due to the pandemic. Khalif said that “proved to be a blessing in disguise” as companies from six different countries were able to participate in the Milwaukee-based program. 

“So there’s obviously a world-wide need for startup accelerators,” he said, adding that YES aims to continue growing the reach of the Blueprint initiative. It’s already been expanded to encompass cohorts in Green Bay and Madison, where Khalif said the program will focus on serving people of color, women and members of the LGBTQ community. 

Over time, the program has been expanded in scope to provide participants with more resources and exposure, he said. It includes two 12-week programs, starting with idea validation and followed by a more in-depth market validation process that results in a minimum viable product, or MVP. 

“You have your MVP, you’re now trying to figure your way to your early customers, and you’re trying to incorporate skills there,” Que said. 

He said non-dilutive grants of about $5,000 for idea validation and up to $15,000 for market validation can be provided to participants. The program overall can provide up to $100,000 in seed capital for startups working in technology, ecommerce and manufacturing. 

See more on the program: 

Listen to a recent podcast with Khalif and Que: 


# SSM Health books 3K COVID-19 vaccine appointments within 12 hours as shots set to begin for children ages 5-11

# Enrollment at 2-year UW System schools continues to fall amid pandemic

# Labor-law attorneys suggest employers should prep for compliance with OSHA vaccine, testing mandates



– Class III milk price rises to $17.83 for October


– Wisconsin tourism industry showing new signs of life


– ‘Flock together’: UW-Madison Diversity Forum sparks conversation on APIDA identity


– UW System campuses doing federal contract work have an extra month to comply with vaccine mandate

– ‘Better than Christmas’: Excitement, relief as Madison area kids receive first COVID vaccine doses


– How ecobee went from CEO hobby to acquisition target and key to Generac’s future


– Move over Chicago: Milwaukee is Cinderella story in best U.S. city poll, will take on NYC in final


– Milwaukee Brewers star snaps up Phoenix-area luxury home sold by NHL player

– Bethesda, Luther Group plan $31 million residential and commercial development in Tosa

– Luther Group acquires more industrial properties in New Berlin


– After winning Water Council’s tech challenge, remediation solutions company gets boost from Cimbria Capital


– Mitchell airport September traffic up 142%, but remains short of pre-pandemic totals


– Regulators advance $370M liquified-gas plants in Jefferson, Walworth counties 

– Wisconsin’s largest utility company plans to drop coal by 2035


<i>See these and other press releases: </i>

MobCraft Beer: Announces the return of Stout Fest in-person with indoor and outdoor festivities

UW System: Honors achievements of LGBTQ+ advocates and their allies across UW System through 2021 awards