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Pandemic Disaster Hits South Dakota Nursing Homes; Advocates Shut Out Press for Fear of Crossing Noem

Several days ago, I mentioned AARP’s maps showing that South Dakota has the worst rates of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths among nursing home residents in the nation. Liz Essley Whyte of the Center for Public Integrity follows up with a deeper report noting that more than 40% of our nursing homes have lost a tenth or more of their residents to coronavirus:

At Jenkin’s Living Center in Watertown, 24 residents have died from COVID-19 since the last week of October — about a fifth of the residents there — data submitted to the federal government show. Thirteen patients at Weskota Manor in Wessington Springs  — more than a third of its patients — died from COVID-19 this autumn, most of them in one week. Walworth County Care Center in Selby, a 50-bed facility, saw COVID-19 kill 12 patients this autumn, an administrator said. Overall, more than 40 percent of South Dakota nursing homes have lost a tenth or more of their patients to the coronavirus, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of data from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services [Liz Essley Whyte, “South Dakota’s Coronavirus Surge Is Turning Nursing Homes into a ‘Battle Zone’,” Center for Public Integrity, 2020.12.22].

The Tieszen Memorial Home in Marion lost 20 residents, more than a third of its clients, to coronavirus in five weeks in October and November. The facility took good precautions from the beginning of the pandemic, but with a surrounding community that refused to take its own precautions, it was only a matter of time before a worker would bring in the disease:

Many South Dakotans have refused to wear masks or socially distance. In September, [Tieszen administrator Laura] Wilson spoke at a meeting of local business owners in Marion and urged them to take mask-wearing seriously. She was met with blank stares.

“When I left that meeting I had basically resigned myself to the fact that I am living in a different world, and they don’t get it,” she said. “I’d be the only person in the grocery store with a mask on” [Whyte, 2020.12.22].

Getting the facts and talking about them would help the public and policymakers understand the scope of the pandemic and take better actions against it. But Whyte found it really hard to get South Dakota officials and experts to talk about how coronavirus has hammered our nursing homes:

…the governor’s spokesperson did not answer questions from the Center for Public Integrity regarding nursing homes or respond to requests for comment. Noem’s health secretary did not respond to a request for an interview. The South Dakota Department of Health declined to answer multiple emails sent by Public Integrity over multiple weeks. The state’s long-term-care ombudsman refused through an agency spokesman to answer questions. When pressed, the spokesman said he did not know the reason but was given orders to decline the interview.

Even supposed advocates for nursing homes are reluctant to speak about the toll the coronavirus is taking on South Dakota’s elderly. Two trade associations representing nursing homes in the state declined interviews. One of them, the South Dakota Health Care Association, recommended that a reporter speak to the state department of health instead. Another lobbyist, who wished to remain anonymous to avoid angering the Noem administration, said people fear upsetting the governor’s office, known for its guarded approach to dealing with the media [Whyte, 2020.12.22].

This reticence to even talk about the real human cost of the pandemic in South Dakota shows one of the grave dangers our one-party regime poses to the well-being of our state. When one party dominates our state and local governments, and when no other party offers a viable locus of opposition to that dominance, all of South Dakota becomes a one-horse town, where you have to stroke that horse or you don’t ride. The ruling party can delegitimize and shut out the media that should be helping the voting public uncover actionable facts. The advocates for health care facilities, seeing the potential for unchecked political punishment if they advocate for their interests in the media or even publicize simple facts, will also turn their backs on the press and the public and focus on fawning behind closed doors to get their facilities the favors they need from the one-party regime.


  1. mike from iowa 2020-12-27 17:36

    Noem reminds me of the mayor in the movie Jaws. Can’t post signs on the beaches warning tourist s we have sharks. It is make or break tourist season. There are more important values at stake other than elderly people’s health and well being.

    Noem really, really wants to be a famous politician and so you must be considerate of her long term goals. If you must pass on, do so quietly in isolation where only your gawd can hear you. It is likely people such as Noem can’t.

  2. ds 2020-12-27 18:21

    OK from the SD Dept of Health website:
    Deaths among long care residents= 679 and deaths among people with Covid-19= 1446.
    Pretty grim data huh? But at least nobody in South Dakota was forced to wear a mask or anything else equally burdensome.
    Meanwhile, Kristi is off playing with a flamethrower probably pretending to incinerate the anti-trump crowd who stole the election from her idol. No doubt she is plotting how to activate the South Dakota National Guard to join any Militia intent on claiming back the “stolen election” on January 6.

  3. grudznick 2020-12-27 19:13

    NDS rages on, mostly unchecked, with no vaccine in sight.

  4. Buckobear 2020-12-27 19:35

    These dead seniors ain’t a gonna vote for her …… oh wait, they may be loyal republicans.

  5. leslie 2020-12-27 21:10


    “the governor’s spokesperson did not answer questions … regarding nursing homes or respond to requests for comment. Noem’s health secretary did not respond to a request for an interview. The South Dakota Department of Health declined to answer multiple emails sent by Public Integrity over multiple weeks. The state’s long-term-care ombudsman refused through an agency spokesman to answer questions.”

    Noem cant deal with the death of a South Dakota pedestrian struck down on a state highway by the Republican AG much less the entire state in pandemic.

  6. mike livingston 2020-12-27 21:37

    Criminal negligence from the South Dakota Department of Death as covid chrissy mounts her mighty steed and rides off to the sunbelt to bask in the shadow of the demented demagogue she worships and emulates. Impeach the Wicked Witch!

  7. Whitless 2020-12-27 23:31

    The national death rate from COVID-19 is now approximately 1 per 1,000 people. South Dakota’s death rate is approximately 1 per 625. So how does Gov. Kristi market this grim statistic? Perhaps something like this: “Do you hope to receive your inheritance sooner? Are you worried that Grandma’s nursing home costs will deprive you of an inheritance? Your odds of scoring the inheritance jackpot are improved by bringing Grandma to South Dakota.”

  8. Mark Anderson 2020-12-28 06:54

    Its easy, early on she made her choice. Talk about freedom and let the elderly die. She’s just robbing them of a few years and meanwhile she gets to travel the country and make fiery speeches to the trump mob. She was never any good in science or in reason either. Kristi is bigger than that South Dakota. Maybe I’ll move back to the state to compete for her bronze statue in Rapid City. I could put her on her horse, Verrocchio style.

  9. Richard Schriever 2020-12-28 07:46

    In the 50’s and 60’s we were all taught that the Communist countries were particularly heinous in regard to their restrictions on personal freedoms and the prime example was the ONE PARTY nature of their elections. That feature of communism – and not its economic policies – was what struck me in particular. It said to me that unlike America, under Communism, “You don’t really have a choice.” The only candidates on the ballot – or the only ones for whom one’s vote would “count”, were from the ruling party.

    Well, SD – here we are. I guess maybe I see now that my Lennox HS principal and World History teacher Irl Oaks, was not just being “funny” after all when he called SD the “Siberia of North America” back in 1968.

  10. Sioux Falls resident 2020-12-28 08:58

    Earlier in her term, Kristi Noem said she wanted to strengthen families. The emphasis changed to “freedom” after Covid came to South Dakota, when strengthening families requires significant attention and effort, asking for sacrifice from others, and spending state money. The tragedy is that Noem shifted the effort, sacrifice and expense to the afflicted families and their health care providers.

  11. mike from iowa 2020-12-28 10:23

    United States Dec 28th, 2020
    Coronavirus Cases:

    1230 deaths Sunday.
    1600 deaths Saturday.

  12. Jenny 2020-12-28 10:53

    I would think it would be embarassing for South Dakota to be to be likened as North Mississippi but the similiarities really are there – stubborn stupidity and alarming ignorance, undereducated and uncultured with ammosexual tendencies. It really is true that the more intelligent gene pool leaves the state for greener pastures after highschool. Sioux Falls is the one bright spot of the state but even that city leans conservative.

  13. bearcreekbat 2020-12-28 11:06

    Then again, maybe the real embarrassment these days is actually in North MIssissippi for being compared to South Dakota.

  14. jerry 2020-12-28 16:19

    What do GNOem, trump and Putin all have in common? They are all three, lying liars.

    “Russia said on Monday that its coronavirus death toll was more than three times higher than it had previously reported, making it the country with the third-largest number of fatalities.

    For months, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has boasted about Russia’s low fatality rate from the virus, saying earlier this month that it had done a better job at managing the pandemic than western countries.” Tass Guardian 12.28.20

    So there ya go, we are just like Russia now, or is Russia just like us?

  15. mike from iowa 2020-12-29 08:50

    United States
    Coronavirus Cases:
    343,211 Today’s start.

    1899 deaths yesterday, nationwide.

  16. mike from iowa 2020-12-29 15:53

    Another 100k cases of covid and we hit the 20 million case mark. Can’t you feel it like a train?

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