Sanford Health CMO Reflects on the Impact of COVID-19 in South Dakota

Dr. Allison Suttle, Chief Medical Officer Sanford Health

Earlier this month Sanford Health Chief Medical Officer and ICSI board member Allison Suttle, MD, wrote an insightful article for NEJM Catalyst on the impact of COVID-19 in South Dakota. While hospitals in that state have not come close to filling the capacity prepared for the pandemic, the region, like many other rural areas across the country, is anticipating different kinds of surges as preventative health visits and vaccination rates plummet, unemployment rises, and many residents lose their healthcare.  Sanford Health is the nation’s largest rural nonprofit health care system, offering primary and specialty care, innovative research and affordable health plans across North and South Dakota, as well as several communities in Minnesota.

The following is an excerpt from Dr. Suttle’s article followed by a link to the NEJM website for your convenience.

Letter from South Dakota

The CMO of a large rural health care system reflects on Covid-19’s impact in her region, including delayed preventive care and lost hospital revenues, and the urgency of finding sensible solutions to living with a long-lasting pandemic.

Allison Suttle, MD

July 3, 2020

The trauma and devastation that health care providers have experienced from Covid-19 in some of the hardest-hit places like New York, Michigan, and Illinois weigh heavily on us out here on the rural prairie in South Dakota.1

The surge in cases of coronavirus in the rural Midwest has so far looked different than in some larger American metropolitan areas.2 For now, outbreaks here are primarily centered around standalone agricultural food-processing facilities, which are usually very large and have dense workspaces, like the Smithfield Foods pork plant in Sioux Falls.3 We’ve also seen many cases emerging in the large nursing homes in areas close to these hotspots where there has been significant community spread.4

Deaths from Covid-19 are tragic, whether they occur in rural, metropolitan, or suburban communities. In South Dakota, where I serve as chief medical officer for Sanford Health — the largest rural health care system in the nation, serving more than 2 million patients with 44 hospitals and nearly 200 senior care locations — there are vast and mostly remote areas without large and dense populations.5 The surge never came to most of these areas. And because of that, we cannot use a one-size-fits-all mentality in our decision making. Now we must focus on how we live with Covid-19.

Follow this link to read the rest of this article on the NEJM website.