Spanish Peaks Veterans Community Living Center

By: Ernest Gurule

He may not have realized the eternal quality of his words, but General Douglas McArthur, in his farewell address to Congress, may have spoken an irrefutable truth with just eight timeless words. “Old soldiers never die,” he said. “They just disappear.”

For a generation of “old soldiers,” the last battle is being fought daily at the Spanish Peaks Veterans Community Life Center in Huerfano County. “This is for Gold Star vets, spouses and parents,” said Trapper Collada, public information manager for the facility. Most of the Centre’s approximately eighty residents suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. The house is also fully adapted to the care of Hospice patients, a number of whom move irregularly. Capacity has declined over the past year and a half due to COVID. Normally, there are nearly 120 full-time residents who come not only from Colorado but also from neighboring states. Current occupancy is around 80.

“We are a well-kept secret,” Collada said. But a secret, he said, that has been a major boon to countless veterans of long ago with few other care options. Center residents or their families are responsible for payment, but the Veterans Administration also pays for a portion of their stay. While many residents live in a haze that has left them with only a biological, non-emotional life, there are others who are more than capable and understand daily events. “There is a residents’ council,” Collada said.

A man who is also a resident is a gentleman whom Collada identifies only as “Bill, who is 98”. Collada said Bill helps organize events and also helps out with some of the details that make life a little bit easier for his fellow veterans and their families. “He defends the interests of the inhabitants.

While the Walsenburg facility is off the beaten path for many, the pandemic that has ravaged the country has had no trouble finding it. “It took time,” Collada said. “We lost twelve residents,” despite the facility following all government safety guidelines, Collada said. During the darkest days of the pandemic, many residents and their families were separated. Those whose families visited were separated by now familiar partitions, others simply, for health reasons, had to stay away. N95 masks have become normal items of daily wear for staff and patients, Collada said. The virus has also taken its toll on staff, he said, calling it “drain issues”. “It was Covid pressures that exacerbated the reasons for (staff) departures.” But the facility has never been so short-staffed that it has presented a problem for patient welfare. When vaccines became available earlier this year, nearly all staff and residents got vaccinated. “When this came into effect,” Collada said, “we had 98 or 99 percent compliance.” Still, there were a few staff members who, rather than take the hits, simply quit.

What makes the facility a good option for veterans, some of whom no longer have family, is its access to “facilities that a lot of seniors’ facilities don’t have,” including state-of-the-art hospitals in the county or in nearby Pueblo, a less than an hour’s drive north, Collada said.

The center does everything it can, he said, to make the stay of veterans and their families as pleasant as possible, including having bilingual staff members. “It’s a very Hispanic area,” he said. “This is also reflected in the staff and resident population.”

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