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Veteran care center connected to outbreak now free of COVID-19 patients
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Veteran care center connected to outbreak now free of COVID-19 patients

(A worker walking past the exterior of the William E. Christoffersen Salt Lake Veterans Home on May 29, 2020. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY – A veterans care facility at the heart of a deadly COVID-19 outbreak makes a major milestone.  The center is reportedly free from the virus, but veterans advocates say they’re working to ensure an outbreak doesn’t happen, again.

The outbreak was first spotted at the William E. Christoffersen Salt Lake Veterans Home in mid-May.  At one point, 51 residents became infected with COVID-19 and 13 of those residents died, including Christoffersen himself.  Normally, when someone at the care center passes away, the staff will play “Taps” over the intercom and workers step out into the hallway to pay their respects.  However, Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs Director Gary Harter says the virus prevented them from doing that for these fallen vets.

Harter says, “We’ll mourn with their families.  We will have the opportunity to memorialize them in the future.”

Since the outbreak, Harter says there has been a team effort to ensure patients are kept safe and the workers protect themselves.  The entire top floor of the facility was converted into a COVID-19 unit, and the VA Hospital took in residents who tested negative for the virus.  Harter says the outbreak might be over, but the battle against the virus is not, and everyone at the facility is wearing proper protective gear.

“When there’s a vaccine and when there’s proven therapeutics, that will certainly go a long way for us,” Harter says.   “For all those that work in these facilities across our country, they’re fighting this fight, every day.”

Avalon Health Care issued a statement, saying…

“We are pleased to announce that the William E. Christoffersen Salt Lake Veterans Home is currently free of COVID-19 following an outbreak in May. The dedicated and heroic work of our staff – in concert with the Veterans Administration, the Utah Department of Health and Utah National Guard – made today’s announcement possible.

While this is an encouraging milestone, it is one reached with a heavy heart as we mourn for those who were lost to this historic threat. Our staff views our residents as an extension of their own families, and losing even one of our nation’s heroes is one too many.

The fight to safeguard those in our care continues. Though we are now COVID-free, we will not be complacent. We thank our residents and their families for their continued cooperation and look forward to the day when this threat is behind us for good.

We also want to thank the VA, the Utah Department of Health and Utah National Guard for their ongoing partnership. We have confronted this challenge together, and this achievement is shared by all involved. Collectively, we will continue to do everything we can to keep this virus out of our facility.”

Moving the residents of the facility could not have been an easy task.  Former Veterans Affairs Director Terry Schow says every veterans care center in the state is filled to capacity.

He says, “Every home in the state is full.  Every home in the state has a waiting list, some [lasting] a year or more.”

Schow says, unfortunately, the Salt Lake City facility can’t be expended and he believes making a new, larger facility may be the only way to keep up with the growing demand for veteran care.

“The VA has a formula that says the number of veterans age 65 and those who become over age 65 are what determines the nursing home beds you get.  We’ve now exceeded that formula,” he says.

 

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