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South Dakota elder care facilities seek next generation of caretakers

Bearing in mind workforce shortages and funding, long-term care facilities in South Dakota are burning the candle at both ends.

Being a nurse isn’t easy, but long-term care facilities face specific challenges connected to elder care that can be a barrier to some.

Sam Van Voorst is the regional administrator with Caring Professionals, an organization administering several nursing facilities across the state. He said stepping into the line of work is a real debate for some.

“In a setting like this you need to be able to provide care to these residents on a consistent basis and to operate, we have to have a nurse on site 24/7 - it’s a requirement," Van Voorst said. "Plus, you never know when you’re going to have an issue that needs to be addressed right away with a nurse. There’s a lot of nursing tasks that only a nurse can perform in these settings. That is probably the biggest struggle throughout the state right now is we need more nurses.”

At the Custer Care and Rehab Center, director of nursing Lindsey Dietz said the long-term nursing workforce is still on the ropes.

“All us nurses do such a critical job, especially after COVID, during COVID," Dietz said. "It was very, very tough. We are here to support and love and care and nurture, and a lot of our residents have years of stories and experiences and history, and you’ll get to learn about these people.”

Despite the labor shortage and challenging work environment, Dietz said she wouldn’t change her path.

“I grew up in nursing homes when I was younger, and I missed that," Dietz said. "That intimate relationship with elderly people, and now I have a whole set of grandparents I get to love on every day. Even if you don’t experience it, or haven’t experienced it, you’re going to have so many resources.”

The National Council of the State Boards of Nursing tally just over 22,500 nurses across South Dakota. That’s the third lowest in the region, ahead of only Wyoming and North Dakota.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture