Senior living resident attending a telemedicine appointment in his room.
Avel eCare telemedicine cart. (Image courtesy of Avel eCare)

Expanding access to telehealth is the goal of a proposed bill in South Dakota that would provide millions in funding for assisted living communities and nursing homes across the state to implement telemedicine technology and infrastructure.

SB 209 would dedicate $5 million in federal funding toward grants for long-term care operators to buy and install telemedicine technology and infrastructure. 

The funding would come from the remaining $130 million of the state’s 2021 American Rescue Plan Act dollars. South Dakota received $974 million in federal funding through the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds. All of the money must be appropriated by the end of this year and spent by the end of 2026. 

“We have been working with the key sponsors of the bill, and our nursing home and assisted living members, over the summer to advocate for an investment in technology to help providers address their workforce crisis and increase access to clinical services, especially in our rural areas,” South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations Chief Operating Officers Tammy Hattling told McKnight’s Senior Living. 

She added that the bill is a tool for discussions on how to best use funding to develop telemedicine and other technology services to deliver care to residents.

The South Dakota Health Care Association said it “strongly supports” the bill.

“Especially given the daunting staffing challenges long-term caregivers continue to face, increased use of telehealth services provides significant benefits, including timely access to geriatric specialists whenever needed,” SDHCA Executive Director Mark B. Deak, JD, told McKnight’s Senior Living.

In 2022, South Dakota used state general funds and federal pandemic relief dollars to launch a statewide telemedicine program for emergency medical technicians and paramedics. Sioux Falls, SD-based Avel eCare provides a similar program with Aberdeen, SD-based Primrose Retirement Communities to improve access to healthcare and help alleviate staff burnout and shortages.

If approved, the bill’s provisions would go into effect June 30.