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Law
HACIL teacher arrested on child endangerment allegations

Neuswanger

A teacher at the HACIL virtual charter school in Hayward was arrested Friday, Oct. 8, in Burnett County on allegations of exposing harmful material to a child and causing mental harm to a child.

According to an Oct. 8 news release from the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, Bryan N. Neuswanger, 39, was arrested in Grantsburg for causing mental harm to a child and exposing harmful material to a child.

Neuswanger teaches science for HACIL.

On Friday, Oct.8, law enforcement interviewed and took Neuswanger into custody following reports of Neuswanger exposing harmful material to a child. Law enforcement simulta neously executed a search warrant at Neuswanger's residence in rural Sawyer County. Neuswanger was booked at the Burnett County Jail.

No charges had been filed against Neuswanger as of Tuesday, Oct. 12, and Neuswanger was not listed as an inmate in either the Burnett County or Sawyer County jails. Details of the potential charges against Neuswanger were not announced.

Law enforcement is asking anyone who may have any information to assist in the investigation to call the Grantsburg Police Department at (715) 463-2405.

The investigation is being led by the ICAC Task Force at DOJ with assistance from the Grantsburg Police Department, the Burnett and Sawyer County sheriff's offices, the Wisconsin State Patrol, ICAC Task Force Victim Services and the Office of School Safety.


SOLAR PANELS AT BIRKIE HEADQUARTERS

Work
Local healthcare agencies respond to federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate
Ambulance director concerned about impact of federal vaccine mandate

A federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate announced in September that would make Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement contingent on healthcare workers being vaccinated has Sawyer County Ambulance Director Nate Dunston worried about a potential loss of revenue for the county and/or losing emergency medical technicians (EMTs).

Healthcare workers around the country are waiting for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, CMS, the agency that administers the Medicare programs, to provide further elaboration about how the mandate will be implemented. Dunston told the Sawyer County Public Safety Committee on Oct. 7 that CMS was expected to issue a ruling in October, including who can decline the vaccination via an exemption and who cannot.

"And why we worry about that is because they're the ones that give us the funding for Medicare and Medicaid programs," he said, "so all those reimbursements are kind of up in the air a little bit. So I'm just putting that out there. We do have staff, you know, that are totally, wholeheartedly against vaccination, which have said that, you know, unofficially, that they might leave because of that."

Without naming the ambulance service organization, Dunston said he is aware of one service that had seven members who had not been vaccinated.

The Record asked Dunston how many of the Sawyer County Ambulance crew members are vaccinated.

"As we currently are not asking our employees' vaccination status, any guess of a percentage would be pure conjecture," he responded.

Supervisor Dale Schleeter noted that any employee who were to resign in Sawyer County because of the mandate couldn't get another job in another county and continue working.

"I don't know what that looks like quite truthfully," responded Dunston, reiterating that CMS hasn't announced its ruling yet.

"But I will say, you know, not taking Medicare and Medicaid funding reimbursements, you know, it's crippling. It will cripple all of northwest Wisconsin," he said.

Dunston also noted he had asked the state for the "minimum staffing requirement" for county ambulance services and had been told it is one truck with two staff members. Currently, the county keeps two trucks with two staff members — one in the City of Hayward and another in the Town of Ojibwa — on duty at all times.

"On Monday, we had eight calls in Hayward alone," Dunston said. "And that was with two trucks. So I don't know what going down to the state level of one truck will look like for us."

"Looks like a very dangerous situation," Schleeter said.

Dunston said a representative for the ambulance service told him it appeared the mandate would be more focused on health care facilities, but that is not certain. He noted that CMS is still deliberating.

"If county or state employees don't respond to that federal mandate, then the sanction is no funding?" asked Committee Chair James Schlender. "Or is there another type of punitive action that's being offered?"

"We don't know," Dunston responded.

Schlender asked Dunston if the vaccine is required as part of "professional credentialing" or as a condition of employment.

"No," responded Dunston.

"So here's my issue with this one, because Medicaid and Medicare funds are not contingent upon the performance of an employee, it's contingent upon the relationship between the agencies and the actions that's already been done," Schlender said. "It's a reimbursement for services already offered. And so if we've got employees hired from a state or from the county that don't have those kind of instructions, but we're going to carry out a financial penalty if we don't comply with the federal one, I think we're looking at a lawsuit because that interferes with the ability of the economy of either a county unit or a state unit in terms of being able to do and to meet either's constitutional responsibilities. To me a constitutional responsibility trumps any kind of legislation that's going to come down from the federal government."

Schlender said he wanted the full county board to address the issue.

"We then need to come up with a resolution or some kind of assurance that our employees, county employees, are not to be penalized if they exercise their right to not have vaccine," he said. "Because I think it's wrong that someone from somewhere else is going to direct the person and how they're going to take care of their body. And if that's going to impinge upon our ability to provide our services that we have, without this kind of COVID kind of interference, that needs to be addressed. And we need to give assurances to our employees that if they're going to exercise their constitutional rights, the right to decide what they're going to do with their bodies, they're going to have the county behind them as much as we can."

Supervisor Chuck Van Etten said he agreed with Schlender but did not want to pursue the discussion at the full board at this time because there is still much that is unknown.

"I agree, this is too early," said Schleeter, who also agreed the county needs to support workers' rights over their bodies, but noted others will say the vaccination status of one person impacts others.


Medicine
Options under federal mandate: vaccination, exemption, termination

Hayward Memorial Hospital and two of the largest health care clinics in the area — Essentia Health and NorthLakes Community Clinic — are preparing to come into compliance with a federal mandate announced in September that will require their workers to either obtain a COVID-19 vaccination, receive an exemption from the vaccine or face termination.

And the Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) Health Center director already has issued a mandate for compliance by Nov. 1.

The push comes from the Biden Administration over concerns of the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus. On Sept. 9 President Joe Biden announced the vaccine mandate for all health care workers who work for facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement.

The rules for implementing the mandate are anticipated to be published this month by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

Health care facilities are expected to comply in October, with massive Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements at risk if they fail to comply.

Hospitals

At Hayward Area Memorial Hospital, Cherie Morgan, director of marketing and communication, said 77% of the staff is currently vaccinated, and it's anticipated that some employees will seek exemption.

"In early September, President Biden shared his six-point approach to the 'Path Out of the Pandemic,' including the mandate of all health care workers to be vaccinated for COVID-19," she said. "In anticipation of the government's mandate we have been preparing to follow the guidance set by the government and will make COVID-19 (vaccinations) mandatory for our staff."

Morgan said once the details of the mandate are released, the hospital will establish the process for employees wishing to file a request for exemption.

Morgan also released a statement on the hospital's support for vaccination:

"Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Hayward Area Memorial Hospital & Water's Edge have maintained our diligence in keeping our staff and those we care for safe from the COVID virus. Evidence suggests that vaccination is the most effective tool available to protect people from the virus and therefore we continue to put forth our best efforts to encourage full vaccination of all of our staff."

Essentia Health

Tom Matt, media relations specialist for Essentia Health, issued a statement on how the clinic is preparing to come into compliance:

"Nearly 98% of our employees have complied with Essentia Health's COVID-19 vaccine survey, indicating they are vaccinated or have filed for an exemption. Our remaining colleagues will receive 'intent to terminate' notices, which are effective Nov. 1.

"Over the next month, we will work diligently to retain our people. Until we are able to review medical and religious exemption requests, and our colleagues who are denied exemptions have time to file appeals or — if they choose — get vaccinated, we will not know the true impact on our workforce.

"Along with health care organizations across the country, Essentia believes it is critically important that health care workers whose duty it is to protect the vulnerable, elderly and critically ill, are vaccinated against COVID-19. In alignment with our mission and values, it is our obligation to do all we can to keep our patients safe. That is why Essentia requires the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment."

NorthLakes

Chief Executive Officer Reba Rice of NorthLakes Community Clinic-Hayward, with several clinics in northern Wisconsin, said just under 75% of its staff are currently vaccinated and the remainder will have the option of seeking an exemption or separation.

Rice said coming into compliance is not an option because the clinic would go out of business if not for the Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements for services.

"We will provide an exemption process for our employees who for some reason medically should not receive the vaccine or have a sincerely held spiritual belief or conviction for not getting vaccinated," she said. "So we will be rolling out that process this week."

For several weeks, Rice said. NorthLakes had been receiving notice the mandate was coming.

"But there hasn't been much clarity about either content or timeline, just that health care providers should begin preparation to be in compliance in October. But there hasn't been a date about when in October, and so we our doing our best to ensure that we can support our employees who are struggling through this process and comply with the mandate so that we don't jeopardize ourselves by being out of compliance."

Up until the federal mandate was announced, Rice said, the clinic chose to support employees' decisions about whether to vaccinate and not require a mandate.

"We know we can keep ourselves and each other safe using safety precautions," she said. "So we wear masks everywhere. We wash hands. We socially distance and we believe in all possible methods to protect ourselves. We've definitely been able to stay safe, and so we would have preferred to let everybody just choose, but now that the mandate is here, we've been really clear with our employees and let them know we all have choices, but now they (choices) are more limited than we would have hoped."

LCO Health Center

According to an article by Joe Morey in the online newsletter for the Lac Courte Oreillies (LCO) Tribe titled "LCO Health Center Director issues vaccine mandate for employees; TGB approves," LCO Health Center Director Gary Girard issued a mandate for all employees to be vaccinated by Nov. 1.

The mandate, which was supported by the LCO Tribal Governing Board (TGB), offers exemptions for medical and religious reasons, but those granted the exemption are required to be tested twice a week for COVID-19.

The article notes that Girard had said two employees had resigned because of the mandate and one had been fired for refusing to be vaccinated.


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