Religion should therefore be considered as the first of their [Americans] political institutions. From the start, politics and religion have agreed and have not since ceased to do so. — Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835

Keeping medical personnel in South Dakota’s small towns reaching epidemic proportions

August 20, 2012   ·   By   ·   0 Comments

medicalAT ISSUE: The problem: Getting and keeping needed medical personnel in the state’s and nation’s small towns has become very difficult over the past several years.

A solution? The South Dakota Legislature has recognized this for some time and came up with a possible solution during its last session, a bonus to those personnel who stay for three years. Is this a big enough carrot to hold them?

GETTING AND keeping medical personnel in our small towns really has reached epidemic proportions in our state. After training they either want to work (and play) in a larger city in South Dakota or they want to skedaddle to some really big city somewhere across this nation of ours.

To my knowledge, and I haven’t read all 2,200 pages of the bill, but I don’t believe Obamacare even addresses the problem. There have been federal programs addressing the problem, like the Indian Health Service on our reservations, but they aren’t all apple pie either.

Another federal program of some time ago was the HSA, Health System Agency, where the nation was cut up into districts. South Dakota was one of those districts. Its function was to make medical facilities more efficient and economical. But about all it got done was an attempt to close some small town hospitals in the state and shuffle a huge pile of paper in its short life.

The state Legislature has attempted to solve the problem in the past with programs, but to say they were barely successful would be stretching it a bit.

Then, in the last legislative session a bonus program for nurses, lab technicians, nutritionists, dietitians, paramedics, pharmacists, radiologic technologists and physical, occupational and respiratory therapists was developed and signed by the Governor. If these medical specialities would come and work in a small town in the state for three years, they would receive a bonus of $10,000. Half would be paid by the state and half by the employer, a hospital or nursing home. At the same time, if an applying community has less than 2,500 souls the state will pick u 75 percent of the cost. There is another such program for physicians.

Mid-level medical professionals with more training would get $35,000 up to $100,000 for physicians starting new jobs if they stay for three years. This program will cost the state $515,000.

THE NEW PROGRAM got underway July 1. Communities in the state eligible to apply must have less than 10,000 residents and there are a number of these that have far less folks that also have a hospital and/or a nursing home. This program replaces a previous plan by the state by doubling the bonus. It was started in 2002 and lasted 10 years. It first used federal money, but now the new plan bypasses federal involvement, thank goodness.

The former plan cost the state’s general fund about $300,000 a year. And while the new program is more expensive for the state I feel it will be well worth it because it isn’t everyone who can travel to a large South Dakota city for their health care.

WHILE RESEARCHING the report from Pierre I couldn’t help but think about the health care we had growing up in Presho. It was Dr. Newman and Ida Mallett, and after Dr. Newman died it was just Ida. I don’t know how much formal nurse’s training she had, if any, but she was a d—- good nurse. She may have even done some doctoring in an emergency as well before she passed on.

When expectant mothers were about to deliver, they headed for Ida;s and Dr. Newman. I guess she had a couple of bedrooms reserved for them. Both my brother and I were born there and God only knows how many dozens, maybe hundreds, of others were born there as well.

If you ever read the book, “Land of the Burnt Thigh,” a section describes the young Dr. Newman as he traveled by horse and buggy from homestead to homestead in Lyman County. When we came into this world he was no longer the “young Dr. Newman.”

They didn’t have all the new fangled testing equipment medical people lean on today. Most of their diagnoses were by experience and by guess and by gosh. But they saved a lot of lives. However, thank God, with all the testing tools of the trade our medical system, even with its few flaws, is the best system in the world, even with the rural health care problems we’re facing. South Dakota’s government can’t forget its small towns. They are what made our state what it is today….


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Gordon Garnos was long-time editor of the Watertown Public Opinion, retiring after 39 years with that newspaper. Garnos, a lifelong resident of South Dakota except for his military service in the U.S. Air Force, was born and raised in Presho.
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