Dr. Belanger owns an assisted living center in Connecticut. He wrote a fantastic article for NY Times on preventing the spread of COVID-19 including the great idea of having caregivers live in the facility. Excerpts of the article are below.
“My family has owned an assisted living home in this town for over 44 years. Both of my grandmothers have lived in it, and my mother might soon need its care. As much as I admired my parents, I did not think I would someday lead it. I went to Yale, served three tours in Iraq as a Marine infantry officer and earned a Ph.D. in political science from Harvard. I had planned to turn my dissertation into a book. But in 2016, after my father’s health took a turn for the worse, I bought the home, Shady Oaks, and moved in next door. The home is now my life, and that means I am consumed with one thing: trying to protect our elderly residents — and the people who care for them — from Covid-19. As is the case with so many homes for the elderly across the country, it is a battle we are not yet winning.”
“With adequate funding from government and charitable sources, we could pay caregivers to live on-site at the nursing homes and assisted living centers where they work. This would ensure that they do not interact with infected people and then bring the virus into our centers. I instituted this policy on March 22. The result has been promising; we have yet to have a confirmed case of Covid-19 among our residents or staff. But I cannot afford it for much longer, and many other senior care centers could not afford to even start such a program.
Currently, most senior homes rely on checkpoints to screen staff as they arrive to work, mainly by asking them questions and taking their temperatures. But these checkpoints can easily fail, because people without symptoms can carry and transmit the coronavirus. Moreover, many staff members work at multiple homes or have family members who work at other facilities. Many senior homes also have been preparing for the pandemic by hiring extra staffers. So it is hardly surprising that the contagion has spread like a chain reaction in senior care homes.
A better approach is to pay front line aides and nurses to live on-site through the period when the disease is surging — meaning right now. This is hardship work, requiring staff to work 60 to 80 hours a week without seeing family members. But it could be the best way to protect our elderly. Lowering the number of infections at our senior homes would also allow us to conserve protective equipment, reduce the need for hospital beds and prevent the spread of the disease into communities where staff members live.
This is not a small investment. But it will keep our homes safer and reduce health care and legal costs in the long run.