South Dakota nursing home complaints surge 117% higher
SD Searchlight

Nursing home complaints are on the rise this year after falling during the early pandemic years of 2020 and 2021.

The state Department of Health, which oversees more than 100 long-term care facilities, fielded 39 complaints as of Dec. 9. That’s an increase of 117% over 2020 and 2021, when the state received 18 complaints each year.

Both 2020 and 2021 saw COVID lockdowns at long-term care facilities across the state and nation, restricting family members from entering facilities and engaging with residents.

Makenzie Huber with South Dakota Searchlight (southdakotasearchlight.com) reports most complaints submitted this year concern quality of life and care, resident neglect and nursing services. The facilities were inspected after the complaints and in just over half the cases, no violations were found.

Federal and state law require long-term care facilities to create a “plan of correction” if a deficiency is found by inspectors. One facility, Bennett County Hospital and Nursing Home, terminated staff because of issues raised in complaints surrounding resident neglect. An investigation into a death at Avantara Arrowhead in Rapid City found that nurses weren’t properly monitoring the patient as directed by the patient’s doctor after a surgery.

While 2022 has seen an increase in complaints compared to 2020 and 2021, it’s only slightly higher than the typical number of complaints in years leading up to the pandemic. The average number of complaints between 2015 and 2019 was 32 per year, with a high of 49 complaints in 2017.

Erik Nelson, associate state director for advocacy with American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) South Dakota, said the increase in complaints is tied to the “new realities” long-term care facilities are facing post-pandemic.

“As all of South Dakota is aware, there’s a workforce shortage across our state, and it’s definitely hitting the long-term care industry,” Nelson said. “I’m sure staffing challenges can play into patient satisfaction for sure.”

Nelson added that AARP South Dakota advocates for programs that allow individuals to age in their home as long as possible.

“After COVID hit and post-COVID, there’s a higher awareness of what some of those opportunities might be,” he added.

Sixteen nursing homes have closed across South Dakota in the past six years, according to an article by the Mitchell Republic. Seven facilities have closed or announced closures in 2022. Many of the closures are the only nursing homes in a rural community — or miles around. Closed facilities were in communities such as Armour, Clear Lake, Custer, Lennox, Mobridge, Elk Point, Ipswich, Hudson, Florence, Tripp, Bryant and Rosholt.

Good Samaritan Society Vice President of Operations Aimee Middleton blamed the pandemic for putting “unprecedented stress on the senior care industry” while announcing the closure of the Lennox and Clear Lake facilities in May.

The final nursing facility survey on the Good Samaritan Society in Clear Lake reported that there wasn’t enough staff at the facility “to respond promptly to residents’ needs.” The final report for Lennox stated that only one person was staffed on night shifts sometimes, and that it could take “one-half hour to 45 minutes” for staff to answer a resident’s call light.

“One CNA for forty-four residents, I don’t see how that’s appropriate,” one resident told the surveyor in a September 2021 interview.

The Legislature gave a one-time 20% increase in funding to nursing homes in 2022. Gov. Kristi Noem proposed in her budget address earlier this month another 21% increase in funding for nursing homes, aiming for a 90% reimbursement rate for the costs facilities incur caring for Medicaid patients.