As the coronavirus pandemic spread from city to city and state to state throughout the country, heroes emerged in some unlikely forms. Delivery drivers helped keep our economy moving, literally. Grocery store workers risked their own health and safety to ensure shelves were stocked and home necessities were available. Sanitation and utility workers helped keep our lights on, our internet connected, and trash off of our streets. And, of course, doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals stepped up in a big way and have been fighting on the frontline since this crisis first began.
From the early days of the pandemic, when Congress was grappling with how to respond, members of South Dakota’s health care community were some of the first and most consistent calls I made. I can recall sitting in my office in Washington in between meetings about what would eventually become the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act – bipartisan legislation that was unanimously approved by Congress in March – and getting real-time updates from medical professionals on the ground in South Dakota.
Congress knew that the virus wouldn’t affect every state the same way, so it was critical to hear what folks were seeing and hearing throughout the country. The feedback I received from South Dakota’s health care providers helped shape my approach to coronavirus relief discussions in Congress. I wanted to ensure our health care community had the tools it needed to prepare for what was coming and to act when necessary. Since the CARES Act’s passage, I’m proud to say that nearly $520 million in federal relief funds have been allocated to South Dakota’s health care community to help fight this battle.
Just because Congress acted, it doesn’t mean my reliance on these frontline workers’ advice and feedback has ended. This is an unprecedented crisis, and I want to be sure the federal investment in the response is working effectively and efficiently. I also want to be sure there aren’t additional needs that aren’t being met.
As I said, I’ve been in constant contact with South Dakota’s health care community – through phone calls, virtual meetings, and other correspondence. Seeing things firsthand can’t be replicated, though, which is why I recently made several stops to hear directly from providers in our state.
I was fortunate to meet with officials from Avera Queen of Peace Hospital in Mitchell and Prairie Lakes Healthcare System in Watertown. These folks are the real heroes, and I was humbled to thank them in person (socially distanced, of course) for their continued service. We covered a variety of topics, including progress on a COVID vaccine, the importance of testing and contact tracing, and telehealth services, just to name a few. Their insight continues to prove to be invaluable.
On telehealth, in particular, I think we’ve all learned just how important this vital service is to rural communities. It’s something I’ve been fighting to strengthen for years – both on the health delivery side and the rural broadband side. Both are critically important to telehealth’s success, and we’ve seen just how well it can work during the pandemic. It’s an issue that I will continue to advocate for and find permanent solutions to some of the obstacles that still exist.
Again, I can’t say it enough, but on behalf of a grateful state, I want to extend a hearty “thank you” to everyone, especially our health care heroes, who have stepped up over the last few months. That list also includes the people of South Dakota who have continued to show that personal responsibility is also a big factor in fighting this virus. I’ve been saying it from the beginning, but we’re all in this together, and South Dakotans have proven that’s true.