Vernon Manor staff and residents clap and wave as Vernon police and firefighters put on a caravan parade through the facility parking lot in celebration of National Skilled Nursing Care Week.
Employees and residents gathered outside Tuesday afternoon at the Vernon Manor and Vernon Manor nursing homes as local first responders conducted caravan parades with their emergency vehicles to honor the staff at both facilities.

The event, which was in celebration of National Skilled Nursing Care Week, took place about one year after similar caravan parades occurred at the two facilities at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Attendees told the Journal Inquirer that the feeling this year, as opposed to last year, was one of relief.

Vernon Manor Administrator Angela Perry said the parade was “a great anniversary” that represented a “transition out of the pandemic.” The staff was particularly excited to be able to gather the residents outside in the sunshine to watch the parade. That could not be done last year, she said.

“It’s definitely on the upswing and less restricted,” she said. “The residents are able to spend time with their loved ones indoors versus virtual visits, so we’re definitely moving in the right direction. The vaccines have helped with that safety blanket.”

Perry explained that if a resident and family member are both vaccinated, the facility now allows them to meet in person, embrace each other, and converse without masks. “It’s a vast improvement,” she said.

The two parades come as some 3,400 employees of 33 other Connecticut nursing homes, all of whom are part of the union District 1199 New England, SEIU, plan to strike on Friday in protest of what they call poverty wages. Staff of Vernon Manor and Vernon Manor are not affiliated with that union, or the planned strike.

“We had a wonderful parade today for all our residents — we stay Vernon Manor strong, and thank you first responders,” Nicole Belanger, a front desk receptionist at the nursing home, said after the parade, eliciting applause from other staff and residents.

Charles Cormier, whose wife, Lynn Cormier, has lived at the Vernon facility for nearly 10 years, held her hand as they enjoyed the parade.

“It’s been a journey, and this place has just been top notch,” Charles Cormier said.

Charles Cormier, who lives in Vernon, said he visited his wife daily until March 9, 2020, when visitors were no longer allowed due to the pandemic.

“I came (the day before) and helped her with lunch, and then the boom hit,” he said. “It’s only been recently that I’ve been able to get back in and hold hands as opposed to just looking through a window. It’s definitely a major relief as COVID goes away.”

Brian Liistro, managing partner and CEO of the jointly owned Manchester and Vernon facilities, said the event brought together “the exceptional group of people” who work at the facilities, as well as the police, fire, and EMS workers who regularly respond to calls from the nursing homes to help care for their residents.

“It’s an emotional event for me because I really cherish our first responders and our team that comes in every single day,” he said. “We all struggle through this together.”