Improving Care for Families: A Plan for a Strong and Healthy South Dakota

Everyone needs health care: Old, young, wealthy, poor, sick, and healthy. That’s why no matter what group of voters I meet with, from teachers to veterans to farmers, health care always comes up as a top concern. From birth to our golden years, our health care needs are constantly changing and demanding new experts, facilities, and technologies to keep us healthy.

We have work to do to make sure our aging population has access to care in their communities, to ensure access to care regardless of the size of your hometown, to end stigma surrounding mental health care, and to ensure accessible treatment options for our neighbors struggling with addiction. As Governor, I am ready to work toward common sense solutions to build a stronger health care system in South Dakota.

- Senator Billie Sutton

Improving healthcare access in our healthcare hubs and rural communities

South Dakota has strong healthcare networks with thriving regional healthcare hubs. While expanding care options in our larger cities, more can be done to ensure access to care in every corner of the state. Telehealth is a great option to ensure South Dakotans in small communities have access to the skilled doctors and specialists in our larger communities. Further technological research and innovation in healthcare can also help to make care accessible in all corners of the state.   

As Governor, Sutton will use existing federal funds to invest in rural hospitals that will improve the state economy. He will fund programs that provide incentives to doctors and nurses who stay in state or move to South Dakota to help provide more healthcare options. Keeping healthcare professionals in South Dakota will help ensure access to care, and tuition reimbursement programs for healthcare providers that move to high need areas in rural South Dakota can have a tremendous economic impact in our small towns.

Support elderly and disabled South Dakotans in need of care

As Sutton has talked to aging South Dakotans, disabled South Dakotans, and families of kids with disabilities, he hears over and over that people just want the same opportunities we all desire -- to be contributing members of their families and local communities. These issues hit home for Sutton because he understands what it means to face a disability, and to have the freedom and independence that can result from access to good health care. These concerns are also important because South Dakota has a high and growing percentage of elderly residents. As of 2016, 16 percent of our population was over age 65, as compared to 14.9 percent nationally. In some of our rural counties, the over-65 populations exceeds 25 percent. In the years to come, the number of South Dakotans aged 65 and older is expected to grow at an unprecedented rate. As South Dakotans age, they will require higher levels of care. To ensure our elders receive quality care, we’ll need to think creatively about ways to offer services and find ways to prioritize care for our elders in our budget.

Unfortunately, politicians in Pierre have underfunded payments for health care providers for decades, creating a situation that is inching ever closer to crisis. In just the last two years, nursing homes in Rosholt, Bryant and Tripp have closed. Many other rural nursing centers barely make ends meet.

We need to expand our investment in services that can help South Dakotans stay in their homes longer, including better reimbursement for providers of home care services and community-based elder care options. We need to figure out how to make specialty services available to rural residents, through the use of provider networks and technology. We also need to ensure our existing elder care infrastructure is preserved through adequate reimbursement for nursing homes and assisted living providers, allowing them to modernize their buildings, train and pay their staffs, and give our loved ones the care they deserve in their golden years.

Make healthcare affordable for hard-working South Dakotans

There are more than 50,000 South Dakotans who could be eligible for health insurance if we just submit the paperwork. Unfortunately, discussions about making health insurance available to these hard working, yet low paid people have been bogged down in years of political bickering, and in the meantime, 50,000 of our neighbors are unable to get check-ups or see a doctor when they’re sick.

Instead of preventative treatment, or catching a potential health problem early, they end up waiting until they can’t put off an ER visit any longer. This inefficiency is forcing South Dakotans to seek health care at the wrong time, in the wrong place, at the wrong cost. The treatment they receive tends to be more costly, and in the end, health care providers, including struggling rural providers, end up paying the lion’s share. Ultimately, much of this cost ends up being put back on South Dakotans who pay higher premiums and out-of-pocket healthcare costs. If these folks could afford healthcare, they could see their doctor earlier and, in many cases, be treated before a condition becomes a full health crisis. The federal government picks up 90% of the tab for these enrollees, and currently South Dakota’s tax dollars are going to other states to pay for other folks’ healthcare.

People on all sides of the aisle have seen the value of this common-sense solution. Governor Daugaard has supported it for years, as have Democrats, Republicans, and Independents in our state. This reform will improve the lives of tens of thousands of our neighbors, is fiscally responsible, and is the right thing to do.

Improve access to mental and behavioral health services in our state

It is a sad fact that suicide is among the leading causes of death in the state of South Dakota. In 2017, the state saw a 36% increase in the rates of death by suicide with 192 deaths. In addition, the state leads the nation in child mortality with death by suicide as the 2nd leading cause of death for children ages 15-24. The most common reason for death by suicide is a treatable mental illness.

The mental health needs in South Dakota are vast and the resources to address these needs are sparse. In SD, we have 11 community mental health centers to serve over 66 counties. In addition, we have professional shortages for psychiatrists, school counselors, and social workers. There is a significant gap between those with significant mental health needs and the professionals that can serve them.

Our approach to this issue must be threefold: prevention, awareness, and access. In order to begin making progress, we must address professional shortages, creating systems of care between community mental health providers and other public entities (such as schools, clinics, and community centers,) recognize the importance of prevention and awareness around mental illness, and  develop measures that reduce the stigma of mental health care in SD to address this significant public health crisis.

Provide more comprehensive addiction treatment for opioids, meth, and alcohol

Addiction affects more than just the person who is addicted. The impacts of addiction ripple out to families, communities, first responders, our judicial system, employers, and others. Improving our treatment options for people with addictions would have broad benefits for all South Dakotans.

As Governor, Sutton will convene a work group to formulate a comprehensive plan to improve prevention and access to treatment for addicted individuals, including studying prescription limits, improved first responder training and access to naloxone or other overdose treatment strategies, take-back efforts for prescription medications, prevention among young people, more widely accessible treatment options for rural South Dakotans, and offering support to children and families of those receiving treatment.