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DOH Secretary: More Babies and Moms Dying under Noem

South Dakota loves babies, but we’re letting too many of them die, says Health Secretary Melissa Magstadt:

The infant mortality rate measure the number of babies who die within the first year of life.

In 2020, South Dakota had a rate of 7.4 percent. Comparatively, the national infant mortality rate is 5.7 percent.

Concerns surrounding this issue in South Dakota are not new. Throughout the last decade, an Infant Mortality Committee within the state’s Department of Health has investigated the causes of reported infant deaths. The committee discovered the highest risk factor of infant mortality is low education in the eastern part of the state and poverty in the west.

Magstadt cited an increase in congenital syphilis and safe sleep issues as causes for infant mortality rises. She said 80 percent of safe-sleep-related deaths happened when the child was sleeping in an adult bed, a crib not up to safety standards, a car seat, on a couch or chair [Zadya Abbott, “Concerns Raised over ‘Prenatal Care Deserts’ in South Dakota,” SDPB Radio, 2023.07.31].

Magstadt’s summary to the Government Operations and Audit Committee of Department of Health performance measures shows that since 2018 (the year we elected her boss to govern the state), infant mortality and maternal mortality have gone up while breastfeeding has gone down:

SD DOH to GOAC, DOH performance measures, 2023.07.25.
SD DOH to GOAC, DOH performance measures, 2023.07.25.

Magstadt said part of the problem is that the entire state has just 66 OBGYNs concentrated mainly in Rapid City and Sioux Falls. Recall what we heard in May about how the misogynist policies of the current Governor are making it harder to address South Dakota’s shortage of women’s health care providers:

South Dakota is facing a shortage of OB-GYNs and is a leading state for maternity care deserts, which is a county without a hospital or birth center offering obstetric care. [Avery] Olson wants to be part of the solution, but she hesitates. She worries the state’s abortion laws will serve to worsen the shortage, leaving future South Dakota OB-GYNs to bear heavier workloads while some rural women’s health care needs are neglected.

…“Where I’m training, there are maybe two out of the 28 residents who would consider working in a state that has restrictive laws in place for women’s health care,” said Olson, who is a resident physician at the University of Hawaii. “That’s because I’m from South Dakota and the other is from Texas. The rest of them wouldn’t even touch South Dakota”

…In a national survey of more than 2,000 medical students, residents, fellows and practicing physicians through social media, three-fourths of respondents said they would not apply to states with legal consequences for providing abortion care, and more than 80% would prefer to train or practice in states with preserved abortion access, according to a study published in February in the Journal of General Internal Medicine [Makenzie Huber, “South Dakota Has a Women’s Health Care Shortage. The Abortion Ban May Worsen It, Physicians Say,” South Dakota Searchlight, 2023.05.15].

Secretary Magstadt is in a tough spot on more than women’s and children’s health. According to the department’s own report, DOH is meeting only one of its eleven performance goals. In addition to the bad stats for women and children, DOH reports that childhood immunization rates are declining and unintentional overdoses are way up.

That health data makes clear that while Governor Noem claims she’s bringing Freedom™ to South Dakotans, she’s also bringing more death.


  1. O 2023-08-02 08:35

    Is this an indictment of midwives?

  2. e platypus onion 2023-08-02 08:39

    Noem’s brand of freedumb does not include freedumb from governmental intrusion, a major part of magat’s political platform.

  3. All Mammal 2023-08-02 09:47

    You have to live long enough to get an education in order to actually be free. Health is freedom. Non sanitized education leads to freedom. No government watching your medical jacket or sniffing your urine is more free. Our governor is a freedom retardant.

  4. larry kurtz 2023-08-02 10:32

    We all know Republican South Dakota Governor Kristi Lynn Arnold Noem (KLAN) is a racist so now she is exploiting ethnic cleansing to advance her national aspirations.

  5. P. Aitch 2023-08-02 10:46

    Governor Noem and I grew up in a town where Indians weren’t allowed. If a carload came down from Sisseton they were arrested, held overnight and returned to their car the next morning near Rauville, about five miles north of Watertown. Once a month, to please a local bar owner, Indians were allowed on a Saturday night. Once again, they were arrested, held overnight and taken north of town to hitchhike back to Sisseton.

    I can’t blame her for how she grew up, but I can blame her for not changing her mindset. She’s traveled and lived in places where her way of thinking had to be hidden. Do you think hiding your feelings toward another race is how Trump grew up, too?

  6. Dave Spier 2023-08-02 11:32

    Noem demonstrated how much she cared about children when she refused that $5,000,000 for for children’s summer food programs. When half of SD’s budget comes the the feds, food for children should be the last item refused.

    All she cares about is herself, how she can make herself look good, and who can help keep her state and federal hope chests overflowing.

  7. Ryan 2023-08-02 15:46

    sx123 noticed the same thing i did. SDPB says infant mortality rate is 7.4% but the screen-captured figures show .63% so somebody misunderstood the numbers… still a sad reality, and should be improved… but 7 out of 100 babies in SD aren’t dying.

  8. M 2023-08-02 16:55

    It says on the chart that it is per 1000 babies. There should be no % mark behind 7.4 and 5.7. And yes, that is high and it’s getting worse because of the “maternity care deserts”, and lack of health care, support, other resources, and of course racism. I bet anyone out there, native women and children die at a higher rate. Native men’s average life in S.D. is 49 years old and dropping.

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2023-08-02 19:22

    That’s a provocative question, O. South Dakota put midwifery statutes on the books in 2017. Two years later, midwives weren’t birthing many babies. Rapid City’s midwifery center, the only free-standing birth center in the state, closed this spring for lack of customers. A quick glance at the DOH’s webpage for its midwife licensing board doesn’t reveal any reports on numbers of births attended by midwives. But the evidence suggests that, even if one were to demonstrate that births by midwife are more risky than hospital births, midwives haven’t made enough of a dent in the birthing market to weigh in as a major factor in increased infant mortality or maternal mortality.

  10. larry kurtz 2023-08-02 19:30

    Midwives do more on the rez outside South Dakota’s reach. Cory can contact me for names.

  11. Lucy M 2023-08-02 19:44

    Brave woman. She is Kristi’s pick for the job and still has the courage to point out the effect of Kristi’s actions on declines in the health of the population of the state. The incremental improvements needed are not as attention-getting as some of the DRAMATIC statements she can make about the OPPORTUNITY in South Dakota to ignore good health practices, safe living practices, and care of the environment, all of which are adversely affected by what seems to her and her colleagues to be GOOD BUSINESS. P{;ease dpm’t let her quit talking about the REAL issues affecting the health of South Dakotans!

  12. John 2023-08-02 21:11

    The republicans will depopulate themselves before they realize what’s going on, why it’s happening, and decide to do something about it.
    Covid disproportionately killed their elders. Their misogynist policies will kill their babes.
    They voted for this.

  13. Arlo Blundt 2023-08-02 23:20

    Disturbing….if they roll away the rock and look under it, it will be more disturbing.

  14. All Mammal 2023-08-03 00:49

    Yes, Lucy M, all hale sister Magstadt for her important work and for having the honor not to lie like a bed wetter for the sake of flattering KN.

    We need to cherish the good ones like her because the bright ones attract the gov star’s frowny scowl and then they must assume the position or resign.

  15. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2023-08-03 05:11

    Maybe Noem should have put Magstadt’s face on that last-place NASCAR car, with a quote about the need to do save more babies and moms. Or maybe she should have put a mom and a baby on the car to raise awareness of infant and maternal health.

  16. e platypus onion 2023-09-01 19:33

    White cop fatally shoots 21 y/o Black pregnant Mother of 2 for allegedly shoplifting liquor from a Kroger’s store. The cop stood in front of her car with gun drawn and as she slowly pulled ahead she bumped him and he killed both her and her fetus.

    Shoplifting is not a capital crime. Where are the Noem do-gooder over godders who want to force every fetus to be born? Why are they not calling for the death penalty for dop fetus killer?

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