With the COVID-19 pandemic hitting our community and state, bold action is required to protect the health and safety of the patients and employees at the Human Services Center (HSC). We have taken those steps as the situation evolves and will continue to do everything in our power to properly safeguard our facility, city, county and state from this health crisis.

HSC is a unique health care facility working to heal patients with mental health and chemical dependency issues. While for many, these issues are best addressed with providers in their local community, some need the intensive system of care that we provide here. People from across South Dakota who are not able to recover in a less restrictive environment come through our doors, and we work very hard to help them heal and return home as quickly as possible.

COVID-19 has made that work much more challenging — as it has for everyone. However, we are taking aggressive actions including:

• Initiating Incident Command System to ensure safety of patients and staff in all facets by monitoring infection control processes as well as normal operating procedures, supply chain, PPE use and distribution, emergency staffing plans and environmental/housekeeping procedures;

• Required screening of staff and anyone entering the facility which includes taking their temperature and completing a questionnaire about COVID-19 symptoms;

• Visitation restrictions to only allow first responders;

• Use of tele-visit technology for family and support contacts;

• Mental Illness Hearings moved off campus in collaboration with Lewis & Clark Behavioral Services and done with audio/visual technology;

• Qualified Mental Health Professionals for mental illness hearings are provided access remotely and no longer need to come on campus to perform their duties;

• Providing group treatment on unit to prevent intermixing of patients from different units, and allow for social distancing.

• Closing the gym, activities center, library and other congregate areas where patients would intermix and offering alternative activities for patients;

• Suspension of non-medical outings off campus;

• All off-unit patient employment is suspended;

• Social distancing, following CDC guidelines, for meals and groups;

• Meals provided to patients within their units;

• Deep cleaning of all patient and ancillary areas often;

• Designating an isolated area where a person could be cared for pending or confirmed COVID-19 testing results;

• Establishing a COVID-19 care unit isolated from other patient care areas;

• Creation of a dedicated COVID-19 Healthcare Team;

• Installing enhanced high-efficiency air filtration throughout the hospital;

• Expedited patient and employee COVID-19 testing;

• Adherence to CDC guidance on use of personal protective equipment and the use of cloth masks when appropriate. We will continue to monitor for and implement changes based on CDC and DOH recommendations; and,

• Strict adherence to CDC and DOH guidance for health care facilities and CMS recommendations for psychiatric hospitals.

Like the rest of the United States, South Dakota and HSC have not dealt with a pandemic like this within the last century. These are extraordinary times which require extraordinary action. We are approaching this situation calmly and rationally with the sincerest intent to slow the spread and protect vulnerable populations.

I want to express my deepest gratitude to the employees of HSC who serve people in need every single day. They do very difficult work and do it with compassion and care. And they are doing it despite fear and anxiety for themselves and their families about infection.  

I also want to thank our partners who are always beside us. The Yankton community has been very supportive of HSC and helped us to ensure that we are taking a comprehensive approach to this emergency. We deeply value our relationships at the local level and want to assure everyone that we are taking this situation extremely seriously. We will continue to take the steps necessary to guard the health and safety of every patient and employee as well as the community and state.

Jeremy Johnson is the administrator at the South Dakota Human Services Center in Yankton.

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