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New law could offer relief to worried family members of isolated nursing home residents in South Dakota

The law allows families to set up video surveillance to monitor their family members in a nursing home. Consent from the resident, any roommates and other stipulations need to be met before a video system can be used, which can be found at https://sdlegislature.gov/#/Statutes/Codified_Laws/2078802.

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Jo Bigot has been confined to her assisted care apartment since the beginning of the stay-at-home order and can only receive visitors by looking through her window. John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press

PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota lost 27 more lives to COVID-19 on Wednesday, Nov. 11.

In all, the coronavirus has claimed the lives of 567 state residents, with 113 being in their 70s and 310 in the 80-and-older age group.

Since the beginning of the pandemic in March, the older age groups were known to be more at risk of hospitalization or death if infected with COVID-19. As a result, many nursing home facilities in South Dakota have restricted visitation, which has left many residents isolated for months on end.

Winter weather conditions have already begun, which has hampered previous efforts by nursing home staff to allow for visitation in an outdoor setting, or have visitors communicate with their loved ones through windows.

For families who are worried about the care of well being of their loved ones within nursing home facilities, a state law that was created during this year’s legislative session may offer some hope.

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The law allows families to set up video surveillance to monitor their family members in a nursing home. Consent from the resident, any roommates and other stipulations need to be met before a video system can be used, which can be found at https://sdlegislature.gov/#/Statutes/Codified_Laws/2078802 .

State Sen. Deb Soholt, who also works in health care and was a member of the state legislative committee that passed the bill to the Senate floor months ago, said she hasn’t heard of anyone utilizing the opportunity to see their loved one via video surveillance in nursing homes yet, but is aware of other efforts made my both staff and family members to help ensure all communication is not lost.

Soholt said in a phone interview Wednesday that she did advocate for $15 million to go toward helping long-term and nursing facilities to help soften the impact isolation has on their patients and residents. That effort did not see fruition, Soholt lamented.

“We were in the summer months so there was mobility for outdoor visits,” Soholt said, referring to when legislators held a special session to appropriate COVID-19 relief funds.

“We’re spending a lot in the schools, but there’s that sweet spot on how we keep the elderly safe from COVID,” Soholt said.

Soholt hopes that legislators take another look and help fund measures that would lessen the impact of isolation on the state’s elderly populations living in assisted-care facilities.

“I totally understand why nursing homes don’t want to have a rampant COVID outbreak in their nursing facility, but we’re getting into another year or two of this pandemic,” Soholt said, adding that the toll isolation takes on residents and their families isn’t letting up anytime soon.

On Wednesday, 1,362 new coronavirus cases were reported, bringing the state’s total case count to 58,696.

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Active cases hit another single-day record, reaching 17,461 on Wednesday.

Current hospitalizations are now at 543, down from the previous day’s total of 607.

Anyone who has a loved one they are unable to see due to nursing home visitation restrictions and would like to share their story can reach out to Forum News Service reporter Shannon Marvel by phone at 605-350-8355 or by email at smarvel@forumcomm.com .

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