SD Relatives of LTC Residents Urged to Seek Answers on COVID-19

South Dakota isn’t including long-term care facilities in its COVID-19 case reporting. But health officials announced Thursday that testing will ramp up at nursing homes, while a leading nonprofit encourages relatives of those residents to make sure they’re safe.

The pandemic has ravaged long-term care facilities across the country. Erik Gaikowski, state director of ARRP South Dakota, says for people who have loved ones in a nursing home, it’s understandable to have fears about them becoming infected.

He says that’s why it’s important to contact these facilities to get key information.

“The first question you obviously want to ask is, ‘Has anyone in your facility been tested positive for COVID-19?'” says Gaikowski. “And then from that point on, then you move on to other questions, such as, ‘What is the nursing home or care facility doing to prevent more infections?'”

On its website, AARP has a list of suggested questions and other guidelines for anyone worried about loved ones in nursing homes.

The state health department says over the next four weeks, it plans to test residents at all facilities. Officials say nearly 50 South Dakota nursing homes and nearly 70 assisted-living centers have seen substantial spread of the new coronavirus.

This week, at least 20 resident deaths connected to COVID-19 were reported at a Sioux Falls care facility, raising new concerns about the impact on nursing homes. Gaikowski says even though there are tight restrictions on visitations, AARP is urging policymakers and home operators to make accommodations for people to connect with their loved ones.

“Whether it’s virtual visitation, phone calls, video chats – whatever the case may be” says Gaikowski.

As for seeking answers, Gaikowski recommends that people turn to the state’s long-term care ombudsman if they don’t feel they’re getting adequate information from a facility administrator.