SALT LAKE CITY — The COVID-19 outbreak that killed more than a dozen veterans at the William E. Christoffersen Salt Lake Veterans Home is over.
The facility is now free of active COVID-19 cases, but officials weren’t letting their guard down. “We mourn with their families,” said Gary Harter, executive director of the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs. “We will have an opportunity to memorialize them in the future when we can all gather again but we do celebrate their service that they rendered to our great country.”
The William E. Christoffersen Salt Lake Veterans Home, like thousands of long-term care facilities in our country, experienced a deadly outbreak and worked its way out.
When the outbreak was first discovered on May 18, the state health department and the Utah National Guard jumped into action at the facility.
“In just a couple of hours, the national guard was there to do testing of all residents and all staff,” said Harter.
During the outbreak, 51 residents and 30 staff members tested positive for COVID-19, and 38 residents have recovered. Unfortunately, 13 veterans died.
“I’m happy they were able to be there but I’m saddened by the fact that they lost their life there,” said Terry Schow, former director of the Utah Department of veterans and military affairs, and a Vietnam veteran. “So, if you think they fought their battles in their youth, and the last battle they fought was in the veterans home.”
As a persistent advocate for Utah veterans, Schow said it’s time for a new, bigger facility in Salt Lake County.
“It’s noble work. I’m honored to help these guys,” he said.
Schow fights for Utah veterans, much like the man for whom the veterans home was renamed in 2013.
“Bill was a dear friend of mine,” said Schow. Bill Christoffersen died at the veterans home that bears his name in June, just shy of his 94th birthday. His efforts over three decades led to that nursing home on the VA campus in 1998.
One decade later, Schow successfully pushed for the 120-bed nursing home in Ogden, which has private rooms.
Schow believes that could be one reason that facility has now kept COVID-19 out.
He thinks it’s time to build a similar home in Salt Lake County where there are 65,000 veterans.
“I’d like to see at least 120, and in a perfect world, 150 beds,” said Schow. The William E. Christoffersen Salt Lake Veterans Home has 80 beds, and the rooms are shared.
We know our job is not done. We know we have much more to do. But we’re determined to ensure that the best care is provided.
–Gary Harter, Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs
Schow will approach the legislature with the idea.
The Christoffersen home could still be used as a smaller home. He said aging veterans in our state could use the space.
“Every home in the state is full. Every home in the state has a waiting list. Some a year or more. So we actually need another veterans home in Salt Lake County,” said Schow.
Even though the Christoffersen home is free of COVID-19 as of Monday. “We know our job is not done. We know we have much more to do. But we’re determined to ensure that the best care is provided,” said Harter.
The director praised Avalon Healthcare, which manages the facility for the job that it has done keeping the three other state-owned nursing homes COVID-19-free while doing the best they could to manage this one.