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THE FOURTEENER official newsletter of VA EASTERN COLORADO HEALTH CARE SYSTEM

Welcome to a special ninth edition of The Fourteener, the official newsletter for the Veterans of VA ECHCS.

We are proud to serve you!

Greetings Veterans – From the start, 2020 was unstoppable with challenges surrounding the coronavirus pandemic—an unprecedented journey that’s meant change in our lives forever. But however unstoppable this past year was, we’ve met every challenge along the way with your safety and well-being in mind throughout these times of change.
In 2020, we were the first VA to conduct in-house COVID-19 testing and one of the first VAs to stand up drive-thru COVID testing. We created an outdoor Emergency Department triage to minimize risk exposure for non-COVID/non-emergent Veterans needing care. We were steadfast in our decisions and have always kept our Veterans in the forefront of every decision.
We provided care to 96,259 unique Veterans, increased the number of Women Veterans served by 5 percent, completed more than 978,000 outpatient visits and had 4,867 inpatient hospital admissions. To meet the needs of our Colorado Springs-based Veterans, we opened the Union Boulevard Outpatient Clinic. We also extended our call center hours to 24/7 operations. We expanded on VA MISSION Act’s Community Care Network because your care is your choice. We opened our Rocky Mountain Fisher House and received the Patient Experience Excellence Award for greatest inpatient satisfaction across all VAs and the list goes on.
But it doesn’t stop there. We’re also incredibly grateful to be at the frontier of ending the pandemic after becoming one of the first 37 VA sites to have received and administer the initial wave of the COVID-19 vaccine this past December. We look forward to providing the vaccine to every Veteran who wants it as we work through each prioritization group outlined by VHA and CDC across Eastern Colorado with available supply.
While there’s still much work to do, I welcome you to learn about what we've accomplished together in 2020 and where we are going with much hope for the future. Wishing you and your loved ones all the best in 2021! ~Michael T. Kilmer

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2020: A Look Back

They say hindsight is 2020. When it comes to the past year, one thing is clear--our lives changed in ways we'll remember forever. Take a look at some of the top highlights from the past year--where we started, how much we've learned and what's next in our journey toward ending the pandemic.

In late January 2020, VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System (VA ECHCS) activated an Emergency Management Coronavirus Task Force in response to an outbreak of respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China.

By February 2020, the Coronavirus Task Force expanded into a daily operational Incident Management Team (IMT) to conduct operations for a rapidly evolving public health emergency, while preparing for a surge in COVID-19 patient cases. We received our first COVID patient in March 2020.

As a leader in its coronavirus response, VA ECHCS was the first VA to conduct in-house COVID-19 testing and one of the first VAs to stand up drive-thru COVID testing. We created an outdoor ED triage to minimize risk exposure for non-COVID/non-emergent Veterans needing care, pictured in this April 2020 photo at the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center.

In a display of lights and sirens that could be seen and heard from windows of all three hospitals surrounding the Anschutz Medical Campus, VA ECHCS police officers joined area police, fire departments and other law enforcement officials in an April 2020 community procession saluting area frontline health care heroes fighting COVID-19.

“It is far too often we see processions to honor fallen first responders,” VA ECHCS Police Chief Daniel Clark said. “For the first time in our generation, we are faced with a pandemic event that has brought clarity to our lines and we wanted to use this small gesture to say thank you to everyone working in the emergency departments and wards. Each and every one of them are heroes.”

Despite lean times in the community, organizations like Frontline Foods and Feed Colorado Heroes united with a variety of vendors throughout the pandemic to support both restaurant workers and health care heroes. Food deliveries continue to support our frontline workers during extra-long shifts fighting COVID-19.

In May 2020, our first COVID-19 patient, U.S. Air Force Veteran, Rev. Terrence 'Big T' Hughes, was discharged from the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center after a two-month long fight. You could hear a thunderous roar from our ECHCS family congratulating him on his journey.

Coronavirus knows no boundaries, which is why we carried out VA's Fourth Mission to support our neighbors with blood drives during a national blood shortage and several staff members conducted Disaster Emergency Medical Personnel System (DEMPS) deployments across the country, to include the Whiteriver Indian Hospital in Arizona where Dorothy Barrow, RN, (third from left) cared for White Mountain Apache Tribe patients in critical need for six weeks during a peak in COVID cases there in June 2020.

In July 2020, VA ECHCS was recognized by the Veterans Experience Office in partnership with the Veterans Health Administration as the most improved VA for inpatient experience in fiscal year 2019. A monumental win for both Veterans and staff.

How do you make the most of difficult times? Plant a garden! That's what Veteran residents and staff of our Domiciliary Care for Homeless Veterans (DCHV) Program were up to in August 2020. U.S. Army Veteran Joe Tacoronte showcases raised beds he utilized to grow a community garden at the domiciliary where he was a resident before finding stable housing.

In October 2020, we were honored to host the former Honorable Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie at the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center. During his visit, Wilkie had a chance to learn about the many challenges our team members met to keep Veterans and staff safe while supporting the greater community's needs throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wilkie said he was "highly impressed" with our adaptability and dedication to our Veterans during the pandemic.

On Dec. 16, 2020, Vietnam Veteran Mark Maloney was our first enrolled patient to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center. VA ECHCS Nurse Practitioner, Patricia Stamper, who specializes in infectious diseases, provided the vaccine (Story below).

"You do everything preventative that you can - part of that is getting the vaccine," Mr. Bailey said, a 22-year Veteran of the U.S. Army, who received his COVID-19 vaccine at our first Veteran Vaccine Clinic at the PFC Floyd K. Lindstrom VA Clinic in Colorado Springs in January 2021.

As we work through our priority groups outlined by VHA/CDC guidelines, it is our goal to provide the COVID-19 vaccine to all staff and Veterans who wish to receive it. We are here to serve you and it is our honor to provide you with the best care possible.

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Veterans, our goal is to offer the two-dose COVID-19 vaccine to every Veteran wishing to receive it. Thank you for your patience as we work through each prioritization group outlined by Veterans Health Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To let us know your interest, please sign up through VA's 'Keep Me Informed' tool, which directs back to our care teams. Sign up here: https://www.va.gov/health-care/covid-19-vaccine/stay-informed.

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Vietnam Veteran receives first COVID-19 vaccine

By Terri Rorke, Public Affairs Specialist

Vietnam Veteran Mark Maloney made history on Dec. 16, 2020 as the first patient enrolled with VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center. VA ECHCS Nurse Practitioner, Patricia Stamper, who specializes in infectious diseases, provided the vaccine.

Vietnam Veteran Mark Maloney made history on Dec. 16, 2020 as the first patient enrolled with VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System (VA ECHCS) to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center (RMR).

After spending three months in the Spinal Cord Injury and Disorders Unit (SCI), Maloney wants to encourage his fellow Veterans to get their vaccine too. “We can set the example,” he said.

Maloney, who served 22 years as a U.S. Army officer, said the needle poke was over before he knew it. “There’s a lot of Veterans out there and we’ve been through difficult periods and this is nothing.”

VA ECHCS was one of 37 VA sites to receive initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and was selected for their RMR’s ability to vaccinate a large number of people and store the vaccine at extremely cold temperatures.

Currently, VA ECHCS teams are working on providing the first wave of doses to the most vulnerable patients and employees, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.

“This is a can-do situation,” Maloney added. “But when you do get the shot, still exercise care in wearing your mask, keeping distance and give careful thought about holiday get-togethers because you can conceivably save a life of your loved ones and even yourself.”

In time, VA ECHCS will offer free COVID-19 vaccination safely to all enrolled Veterans and employees who want it when supply becomes available. VA will be offering the vaccine to Veterans based on the prioritization guidelines outlined by the CDC and VA Central Office.

“We are excited to be one of the first VAs to receive the vaccine and are honored to be able to provide this service to our most vulnerable Veterans and employees," said VA ECHCS Director Michael Kilmer.

“It is the hope of so many, that this vaccine coupled with masking, physical distancing and frequent handwashing will help flatten the COVID-19 curve. We are hopeful to be a part of the solution.”

If you are a Veteran enrolled with VA ECHCS, you can stay informed about VA’s phased distribution plan and let us know your interest in receiving the vaccine. Sign up through VA’s 'Keep Me Informed' portal - www.va.gov/health-care/covid-19-vaccine/stay-informed. You do not need to call us to schedule your COVID-19 vaccine. Care teams will contact you to schedule a free COVID-19 vaccine.

“This is a can-do situation,” Maloney added. “But when you do get the shot, still exercise care in wearing your mask, keeping distance and give careful thought about holiday get-togethers because you can conceivably save a life of your loved ones and even yourself.”

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Even after you receive the COVID-19 vaccine, please remember to follow the 3 W's: Wear your face mask, Wait at least 6 feet away from others and Wash your hands frequently with warm, soapy water.

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