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‘It Doesn’t Have to be This Way,’ Bristol Assisting Living Owner Says of Coronavirus Deaths in Nursing Homes

A report from McKnight’s Senior Living — a national media company serving senior living and independent living owners says Tyson Belanger of Bristol — owner of Shady Oaks’ assisted living that his parents built 44 years ago — where 11 of his relatives, including his two grandmothers, have lived — thinks he has the solution to winning the war on COVID-19. But it’s not cheap, and it requires sacrifice.

The state recently reported 3,423 confirmed cases, 568 laboratory-confirmed coronavirus-associated deaths and 200 “probable” virus-related deaths in Connecticut Nursing homes.

Nursing home residents now account for about 43 percent of the COVID-19-related deaths in Connecticut, Josh Geballe, the state’s chief operating officer, said last week.

Of the 215 nursing homes in the state, 105 had 10 or more cases.

The answer, Belanger believes, is to have staff members self-quarantine themselves with residents. He calls it on-site caregiving.

McKnight says Belanger moved into RVs on the grounds and into a neighboring house and committed to living there for up to two months. Four other staff members commute but work in a separate part of the home.

“In our hometown, as of last week, two of the five big nursing homes have devastating outbreaks . Assisted living numbers are more difficult to come by.” Belanger told McKnight.

The report showed Sheridan Woods Health Care Center of Bristol — with 146 beds and 68 confirmed cases — reported 22 lab-confirmed and two probable virus-linked deaths.

“What’s happening here in Connecticut might soon happen all across America,” Belanger said in a video he posted to YouTube on Thursday. It’s also on the community’s website.

Shady Oaks’ success has come at a price to caregivers. “Our onsite caregivers are now working 60 to 80 hours a week,” Belanger said. “Worst of all, they can’t go home to be with their families.”

It has come at a personal price for Belanger, too. “As appreciation and incentive, I’m paying our onsite CNAs $15,000 a month and $20,000 a month to our onsite nurses,” he said. “They deserve it. They really do.”

Belanger made the video to educate the public and try to convince other operators of the effectiveness of the on-site caregiving approach — “It’s not too late,” he said — but it also serves as a call for donations and as advocacy for funding to support efforts such as his.

You can read the full McKnight’s Senior Living report here.

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