Simplified: We're not out of the woods yet with the coronavirus pandemic, and even when the latest surge of the omicron variant passes, hospitals in Sioux Falls will still have to reckon with employee burnout and hiring challenges.
Why it matters
- Sioux Falls is unique in that it has two major health systems – Sanford Health and Avera Health – headquartered here, and those systems have worked together with the city to address the pandemic over the last couple years.
- As the city grows, so too are Sanford and Avera. Both systems have plans to open new or expanded facilities in 2022.
- But more pressing now are the systems' consistently full hospitals as COVID-19 cases surge.
"We've been one in, one out for quite awhile," said Dr. David Basel, vice president of clinical quality for Avera Medical Group. "We could add 50 beds tomorrow and fill them with people (from other clinics) who want to send patients in to us."
So what will the coronavirus bring in 2022?
There's no way to know for sure. We can't see a crystal ball and predict what this unpredictable virus will bring, said Kelly Hefti, chief nursing officer with Sanford Health.
But, Hefti said, Sanford's message to the public has been and will remain the same: Get vaccinated.
"What we are seeing is that vaccinated individuals do truly have less-severe illness," she said.
She's also hopeful new treatment options for the virus will help reduce the number of people getting very sick or dying.
Basel said he hopes to see the omicron surge settle back down in the second quarter of 2022.
"If you follow the history of pandemics, what you get to is usually the virus mutates enough that it becomes less severe over time," Basel said, adding that he doesn't think COVID-19 will be eradicated, but instead may mutate to be a more manageable illness like influenza.
What about doctors, nurses and other health care workers?
They're starting to leave their jobs – a nationwide trend Sioux Falls isn't immune to.
"It started as a trickle," Basel said. "Now we're seeing a stream of health care workers at all levels that are starting to opt out (of the profession)."
And there's a worry that stream could turn into a flood, Basel said, especially as the pandemic continues.
Health care workers are tired, Hefti said, and both hospital systems are working to help their employees with mental health, show them they're supported and offering pay raises.
That burnout and "trickle" of folks leaving the profession also comes at a time 0f low unemployment to the point that virtually every industry in the city is having a hard time hiring employees.
The big challenge, then, in 2022?
"We still need to make sure our doors are open," Hefti said, and that means keeping hospitals staffed.
How are Sanford and Avera looking to grow in 2022?
Both health systems have buildings in the works.
Sanford Health plans to have a new clinic in Harrisburg open by the fall.
- Hefti said future growth for Sanford clinics is planned in both the northeast and southeast parts of Sioux Falls, both of which are seeing significant population growth.
Avera will open its new addition to the Behavioral Health Center on West 69th Street this spring, Basel said.
- Folks will start to see construction on a future east-side family health center at Dawley Farm, which is slated to open in January 2023. Avera will also continue its focus in growing access to tele-health, Basel said.
One last thing to watch: routine health care
If you put off things like a colonoscopy or mammogram when the pandemic started, 2022 is the year to get those done.
- Basel predicts part of 2022 will involve doctors dealing with the consequences of patients who put off routine medical care.
"We do want to make sure that people are not neglecting or putting those things off," Hefti said. "It's the right thing to do to make sure you're seeking care as you need."