As Americans paused over the weekend to remember Armed Forces members who died while serving the United States, one veteran was giving thanks to several heroes who “by their sacrifice, saved lives and catastrophe.”

You may recall the story I shared a month ago about Tyson Francis Belanger, the owner of Shady Oaks Assisted Living in Bristol, CT, who, along with 17 caregivers, chose to shelter in place beginning March 22 to try to prevent COVID-19 from entering the 36-resident home that his parents built 44 years ago. An additional four staff members have continued to commute but work in a separate part of the home.

Saturday, Belanger wrote me with good news. “We made it! We are infection free and ready to resume commuting,” said the former Marine who served three tours of duty in Iraq.

On-site caregiving, as Belanger describes the home’s strategy, prevented any COVID-19 cases from occurring. “Our home is still a safe place to live and work. Plus, we are now better trained and equipped,” he said.

Belanger is realistic, of course. “The danger is real,” he said.

As of last Wednesday, Belanger said, 53% of assisted living communities in Connecticut had at least one COVID-19 case, and among COVID-19 deaths in the state, 71% have been residents of senior homes.

But with a plan for the future in place, Belanger said, caregivers will move back to their own homes in about a week. “Our home will mainly depend on KN-95 respirators, frequent tests, and off-site convalescence,” he said.

Shady Oaks has more than 3,500 respirators on hand for staff members and residents and has partnered with laboratories so that employees and residents can be tested frequently, Belanger added.

“As a further precaution, we will require off-site convalescence for COVID positive residents,” he said. “By law, our home can only help chronic and stable residents, and we must protect everyone here.” For that reason, Belanger said, residents who test positive for the virus will be transferred to hospitals or recovery homes until they no longer are contagious.

Berlanger knew that Shady Oaks’ strategy wouldn’t be cheap, and it hasn’t been. He sought donations and said he received a total of more than $215,000 from almost 100 people, including his mother.

“The Payroll Protection Program added another $343,000,” he said. “With this help and minus expenses, I will have spent about $250,000 from my personal savings on payroll and supplies, which averages to about $7,000 per resident.”

Berlanger and his employees await “a time with fewer COVID infections, better treatments and someday a vaccine.”

But on Memorial Day weekend, he said, “We are forever grateful to our on-site caregivers and donors. They saved us through the surge.”

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