FOREST CO. - Over the last three weeks, Forest Co. went from having zero confirmed COVID-19 cases to now 28.
Health officials state all but one is tied to an outbreak at The Bay at Nu Roc Health and Rehabilitation Center, in Laona.
However, Forest Co. residents connected to employees at Nu Roc say the virus was present a few weeks prior to the county's first case.
Resident Jennifer Connor discovered after speaking to community members that two weeks prior to the county announcing their first confirmed case another employee at NuRoc tested positive in April
Witnesses at NuRoc, who wish to remain anonymous, did confirm that the administration brushed off that employee's COVID like symptoms as another illness and allowed her to continue working in the building until April 24.
That following week the employee tested positive for the coronavirus.
CDC guidelines state "if a healthcare worker develops symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, cough, difficulty breathing), advise them to stay home from work."
Nurses and other staff stated that the employee's significant other tested posted for the virus prior and after speaking with administration they were asked to not share that information with their colleagues.
One stated "Corporate told us that the employer has the coronavirus, but not to say anything to anyone as we need to keep this real quiet. We were told by corporate not to worry."
Following CDC guidelines includes healthcare workers to report when they come in contact to a high or medium-risk exposure. Additionally they ask to exclude them from working for 14 days after the last exposure.
Knowing that information, Connor began to call multiple state agencies to warn of the potential outbreak at Nu Roc.
All nursing homes are required to report data weekly to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and CDC through NHSN according to the CMS and CDC reporting requirements.
After speaking with almost ten state agencies, Connor added in an email to Newswatch 12 that they had no knowledge of the spread and even admitted they had inaccurate data.
"The CDC was shocked the northern counties of Wisconsin were still uncalculated in their system," Connor wrote. "They had never seen it pop up that way in their system before."
After Forest Co announced its fourth confirmed case, an investigation began at the nursing home.
And at least one highschool CNA, who wishes to remain anonymous, tested positive. Because of the lack of staff, the administrator asked them to continue working.
"[The administrator] didn't want me to leave the day I found out I was positive," they said. "She was like 'since you are already here and infected the residents, you should go work in the COVID unit."
Multiple employees stated to Newswatch 12 that Nu Roc is significantly understaffed. The CNA added because of the lack of help, Nu Roc worked to have the State pass a rule where if an employee tested positive they could continue to work in the COVID unit.
Prior to COVID-19, Nu Roc employees, including former employee,Season Roy, stated a lack in staffing has been an issue for the facility.
With nurses and staff overworked and juggling multiple jobs at once, Roy added one reason behind it is the lack of support from its corporate company, Champion Care.
"Not just in my words but in words of other staff members it was precipitated by an issue of corporate as far as giving us the support we needed," Roy said. "There has been a problem at nu roc for at least the past couple years since champion care took over the facility."
Additionally, multiple employees say they faced harassment and bullying while working at the facility. When filing a complaint to corporate, Roy added there was more backlash.
"What I saw there were some unprofessional actions as far as retaliate calls that were unjustified to corporate complaints," Roy said. "I definitely think that's abuse, I've had it happen to me more times than I can count."
A current investigation is still ongoing by state officials on the COVID outbreak at Nu roc but Newswatch 12 has not received any details on their findings.
Before the pandemic, Nu Roc was dealing with multiple deficiencies from the Department of Health and Human Services.
One survey from Feb. of this year shows 11 federal citations against the business that details multiple acts of negligence.
Nu Roc and Forest Co officials have not responded to Newswatch 12's requests for a comment.