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Governor highlights rural health needs

Among the governor’s listed priorities in the State of the State address was to bolster the state’s rural health networks.

During Tuesday's speech, Gov. Kristi Noem specifically highlighted the work of the state’s largely volunteer EMS workforce and Avel E-Care, a nationwide service connecting health care professionals to EMS workers in the field.

That led to the implementation of Telemedicine in Motion, a statewide initiative with Avel to expand access to E-Care. South Dakota is the first state to enact such a policy.

Becky Vande Kieft is the vice president of Avel E-Care’s emergency services line.

“We draw upon our clinical experience," Vande Kieft said. "We have board-certified physicians, nurses and paramedics in a virtual hub and can connect anywhere in the nation to either emergency departments or our newest service line. So, putting technology – two-way audio video feeds – in the back of an ambulance.”

Nationwide, EMS units see turnover rates above 30 percent, and Noem estimated 90 percent of the state’s EMS staff are volunteers.

Sen. Erin Tobin comes from a background in health care. She’s on board with the program.

“E-Care is just a great idea to not only provide some replacement for that workforce, but to allow for any hospitals receiving those patients have great communication in the field as those patients are being delivered to them,” Tobin said.

While proving to be effective, the program is irrelevant if ambulance services are unstaffed.

“It’s been very difficult in our rural areas because our EMS have been staffed by volunteers," Tobin said. "Those same volunteers have been there for decades, and they’re getting older, they’re getting tired. So that workforce is just depleting.”

Tobin said post-natal support for new mothers and long-term care proposals will be on her mind as the session begins.

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