In mid-March, nursing home owner Tyson Belanger realized COVID-19 was going to present a challenge to care facilities and decided to take a creative approach by offering staff large bonuses to move for two months into RVs he rented and placed on site at his Bristol, Connecticut, facility. Staff would quarantine with their elderly patients.
Two months later, there have been no COVID-19 infections at Shady Oaks Assisted Living, while The New York Times reports the rest of the state has endured 1,627 deaths in 219 facilities – about 55% of Connecticut’s total deaths.
Belanger says he knew he had to act quickly once he saw the “nightmare” unfolding at Life Care Center of Kirkland in Washington State. The news of multiple infections and deaths there served as “an alert all across the country” to start planning preventative measures against the spread of COVID-19. “Everyone knew it was coming our way. It was coming to senior homes. And we all began to mobilize,” he says.
First, Belanger says Shady Oaks Assisted Living shut down all outside visitation in early March, a decision he described as “heartbreaking.”
Next, a checkpoint was put in place to screen all staff members for the coronavirus before they reported for work. That became difficult, though, as more information became available about asymptomatic cases, he says.
That was the moment Belanger realized he had to rethink his plan.
Shady Oaks Assisted Living – a business that has run in Belanger’s family for more than four decades – now has RVs lined up in the parking lot. The center, which normally is buzzing with 48 staff members, was whittled down to 17 people who work 60 to 80 hours a week, he explains.
Asking his staff to work exhausting hours away from home and loved ones for two months is no small feat, he says. But Belanger says the center feels good about its decision to “bubble up.” He added:
We feel like we’ve really made a difference. And in our hometown, four out of five nursing homes have COVID-19, and one of them has over 28 deaths. And we just know that we made the right decision for our home, for our residents and for our caregivers.
To incentivize and show appreciation for their sacrifices and dedication, Belanger draws from his personal savings to pay the living center’s on-site staff more than usual. Certified nursing assistants receive $15,000 a month, and licensed nurses pocket $20,000 a month.
Although his financial situation looks bleak, he says saving patients’ and caregivers’ lives was the biggest priority.
The federal Payroll Protection Program became available to the nursing home, which he says has been “a huge help.” The program allows him to pay his furloughed staff in full according to their average hours before the pandemic struck.
With the loan and small donations, “we’re able to take care of our community,” Belanger says. “And the idea behind that is that sooner or later, we’re going to have to open back up. And when we do, we want to make sure everybody was well taken care of.”
Although he says he’s still a couple hundred thousand dollars short from the extra expenses of RVs and pay bonuses, Belanger has “no regrets” for doing all he could to save lives in Shady Oaks Assisted Living.
The human reward outweighs the financial uncertainty, he says. He adds:
I speak with strong conviction that we have a way forward. And I just want this idea out there. People should be aware that this is an option at least to bridge, to patch through the surge and then get to the other side.
The Beasley Allen Nursing Home Litigation Team
It is refreshing to read a story about a nursing home that is truly taking extra effort to ensure the health and safety of its residents. All to often, in our practice, we see tragic stories that result from negligence and abuse.
Alyssa Baskam, a lawyer in our Atlanta office, heads Beasley Allen’s Nursing Home Litigation Team. Currently, Susan Anderson and Andrea Linnear also serve on the team. In order to properly handle nursing home litigation, lawyers and support staff must have specific experience and expertise in this type case.
Alyssa and other members of her team are dedicated to representing the elderly and infirm who can’t fight back when they suffer at the hands of inadequate care and deficient inpatient facilities. If you have a case involving abuse or neglect at a nursing home or other inpatient facility, we would like to talk with you about working together on the case. You can contact Alyssa, Susan or Andrea at 800-898-2034 or fill out a contact form on this website.