Veterans at Fitzsimons long-term care facility vaccinated

By: - December 23, 2020 4:23 pm

Army Veteran Phil Ross, 73, right, celebrates after getting a COVID-19 vaccine administered by registered nurse Ola Arije, left, at Veterans Community Living Center at Fitzsimons in Aurora on Dec. 22, 2020. Residents and staff of the Fitzsimons veterans facility were among the first seniors in the state to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. (Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post, pool)

Most of the residents of the Veterans Community Living Center at Fitzsimons received the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 on Tuesday, becoming some of the first seniors in the state to be vaccinated.

The long-term care facility, with 107 residents, is home to veterans who served in World War II, Vietnam and Korea. The facility received 100 vaccine doses. Residents who did not receive vaccinations Tuesday are expected to get them when a second shipment arrives by the end of the year, according to Kimberly Longe, the facility administrator.

One of the vaccine recipients at Fitzsimons was 88-year-old Melvin Menard Sr. The Marine Corps veteran tested positive for COVID-19 in April.

“I was heartbroken, I thought we’re not going to see him (again) and that this is it,” said Lisa Phillips, his daughter. “The last memories of dad (are) going to be of him by himself with no family around, dying of COVID.”

He beat the virus and was one of the first residents to be vaccinated Tuesday.

Longe said the beginning of the vaccination process brings a sense of hope to the 255 Fitzsimons staff members, the residents and their families. 

“We’ve been through hell and back basically since March, so for (us) to have opportunity to have a little ray of sunshine and hope is an amazing feeling,” Longe said. “This is truly the ray of hope we’ve been all waiting for.”

The state recorded an average of 2,544 new cases of COVID-19 each day from Dec. 15 through Dec. 21, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. That’s down from the previous week, when the state recorded an average of 3,382 new cases per day.

In total, 4,369 people have died in Colorado with COVID-19. Of those, at least 3,601 people died as a direct result of the illness.

Gov. Jared Polis attended the Fitzsimons event.

“With this rich history in the state of Colorado comes a responsibility to care for those who have served our nation, our veterans — especially our older veterans — in the face of a pandemic that has put them at the highest risk of becoming ill, or even losing the final battle against COVID,” Polis said. “The past nine months has not been easy for the residents here at Fitzsimons, staff and family members.”

The story was drawn from pool reporting by David Mullen of The Denver Gazette.

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