CORONAVIRUS

Nine Veteran Deaths At Salt Lake City Facility Due To Coronavirus

Jun 17, 2020, 6:33 PM | Updated: 11:39 pm

BLUFFDALE, Utah – There are some places that just speak to you.

Kent Holmgren knows one spot.

Visit the Utah Veterans Cemetery in Bluffdale, and there is a chance you’ll see Holmgren there.

“I love it here. It’s a beautiful place,” said Holmgren. “I come out here, it can be snowing, raining, wind howling.”

He said enjoys listening to those voices.

“I like to be around the other veterans,” said Holmgren while sitting on a bench on the east side of the cemetery.

However, there’s one person here who brings him peace.

“She’s right there,” he said pointing to a name on a stone. “Her name is Betty Lorraine.”

Betty is Holmgren’s wife. She died just a couple of years ago.

“It was tough when she left. It was really tough,” he said. “And I promised her I would come and visit her every chance I had.”

Holmgren, a Vietnam veteran, considers coming here often kind of like his final mission.

“It’s very important,” he said.

Holmgren also knows this peaceful place could be getting a lot busier.

“You know, this virus came on and it just came on like a wind of fire. And it ain’t going away,” said Holmgren.

He’s talking about the coronavirus pandemic and the impact it’s had.

Especially on veterans in nursing homes.

Nine have died over the past few weeks at the William E. Christoffersen Salt Lake Veterans Home on the campus of the VA Salt Lake City Healthcare System.

Dozens more were still positive.

“That’s sad, you know? And the way it’s going, we’ll fill these walls right on up,” said Holmgren while pointing toward the cemetery.

Even sadder is those veterans died without family members being able to visit them because of coronavirus.

The facility, like other long term care facilities across the state, is closed to visitors.

“These residents in nursing homes are really isolated, and so we as a department are doing our best to absolutely make sure these veterans feel like they’re still remembered and a part of our community here in Utah,” said Kelsey Price, communications director for the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs.

Part of that effort is a new program launched last month by Utah’s Department of Veterans Affairs called “Happiness for Heroes.”

It’s where people are encouraged to write cards of thanks and hope to veterans.

Those cards are then delivered to veterans by their nurses.

“They’re just as much a part of the family and they really have strong bonds with these veterans as well,” said Price.

An example of that is when one veteran isolated in the COVID unit at the Christofferson facility was upset he couldn’t play the piano Martin he normally did because it was in the activities room.

“Simple fix. What did we do? We took the piano and moved it from there and put it in the COVID unit,” said Martin Mayhew, regional vice president of operations for Avalon Health Care.

Avalon Health Care operates and manages the veterans nursing facility.

“We want to make this as comfortable for them as possible,” said Mayhew.

It’s the small things that can help make a difference with a virus bigger than anything even Holmgren has seen in his lifetime.

“Especially our veterans. That’s a heck of a thing. Go through all you went through and then build your life and then die like that? That’s sad,” said Holmgren.

That’s why he said he’ll keep coming to the Utah Veterans Cemetery in Bluffdale.

He wants to say hello to his wife as often as possible, but he also wants to honor those veterans who faced an enemy that science is still mobilizing to defeat.

“I feel sorry for anybody that has this virus,” he said.

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Nine Veteran Deaths At Salt Lake City Facility Due To Coronavirus