Excerpts from recent South Dakota editorials

July 9, 2019

Madison Daily Leader, July 5

New owner of nursing homes worth watching

Legacy Healthcare of Skokie, Illinois, has taken over operations of a group of South Dakota nursing homes which have been operated by a receiver since early 2018.

The nursing homes were part of a complex set of companies but known in the state primarily as Golden Living. Two of the homes — at Madison and Mobridge — were closed, and a third in Sioux Falls may yet shut its doors.

The takeover by Legacy Healthcare is too late to save the Madison facility, but we believe their success or failure is worth watching.

At the crisis point in May 2018, the facilities were running out of food and medical supplies for residents, hadn’t paid wages or health benefits to some employees, and hadn’t paid some utilities, which were at risk of being shut off.

Black Hills Receiver LLC took over in an attempt to care for residents and stabilize operations. It was a particularly difficult rescue situation.

Legacy Healthcare has stated that it has previously revitalized facilities by implementing clinical best practices, advanced medical technology and robust customer service.

Many nursing homes in South Dakota are facing financial challenges, including increasing costs and flat revenues from government support. The state Legislature boosted reimbursement rates during the 2019 session and appropriated $5 million to seek “big-picture” solutions to nursing homes’ financial challenges.

We’re eager to see what Legacy Healthcare can do with the former Golden Living operations. Can the homes provide good care on tight budgets? Can staff be hired and trained to meet today’s requirements? Can the reputations of the nursing homes be restored?

If successful, some of the practices of Legacy may be adopted by other operators. If unsuccessful, the crisis may be revisited.

Legacy has promised it would be in constant contact with the state of South Dakota, regional hospitals and local health care providers. We’re eager to see how the situation unfolds.


Aberdeen American News, July 6

Aging dams, reservoirs need our attention now

Aging infrastructure is like losing weight.

You might talk about it for days, months and years. However, until a doctor tells you either lose the excess pounds or face a health crisis of life-threatening issues, you might not take action before that.

So it goes with our aging dams and reservoirs in South Dakota.

The doctor, or in this case, Mother Nature, has spoken. South Dakota News Watch, via writer Nick Lowrey, recently reported:

“The last 12 months have been the wettest in South Dakota in more than a century and as a result, dams across the state have suffered significant damage, creating the potential for flooding, loss of life, destruction of property and the need for expensive repairs.

“Across South Dakota and the Great Plains, extensive snow melt and heavy rains have eroded spillways, plugged outflows, caused leaks and led a few dams to fail completely. The wet weather has exposed weaknesses in the state’s system of dams and reservoirs that in many cases are aged and worn.”

It is a multi-million-dollar problem. But not a new problem.

Politicians have talked about the state’s aging dams and reservoirs for years. Some officials who keep an eye on dams in the state say South Dakota leaders have been responsive when it comes fixing problems.

However, those same state officials do not have a firm cost estimate on what it would take to shore up the state’s problems with aging dams and reservoirs.

That needs to change. We need firm numbers and an overall plan of action from our political leaders.

Again, it is easy to talk and not act upon a largely unseen, unthought-about problem. But this is a problem that can take lives and damage livelihoods.

It is a problem that calls for preventative action, not reactionary action.

South Dakota’s problems in this area are no different than in other states. Estimates by the Association of State Dam Safety officials peg the cost of needed maintenance for the country’s more than 87,000 non-federal dams at roughly $66 billion.

South Dakota has roughly 2,550 nationally inventoried dams. The term “inventoried dams” means they qualify for listing on the National Inventory of Dams, meaning they hold more than 50-acre feet of water — about 16.25 million gallons.

Dams that could kill people if they fail are designated as “high-hazard.” The state has 91 high-hazard dams (about half of which are maintained by state agencies and the other half by federal agencies).

Most of the dams in South Dakota were built more than 60 years ago. Dams control water for irrigation, prevent property damage and protect lives, store drinking water and create opportunities for recreation.

Such dams for recreation in South Dakota have led to more than $350 million in annual recreational fishing and boating industry.

So, there seems to be a lot of money on the line for the many whose livings are tied to that industry and dam/reservoir safety.

Most of the state’s 2,550 inventoried dams are privately owned. They serve a variety of functions, from holding livestock water to forming family fishing ponds.

But nearly all such dams are too small or don’t present enough danger to lives or property to get regular inspections from DENR, the agency responsible for state- regulated dams. Thus, where the state has 91 “high-hazard” dams, the number of private-owned “high-hazard” dams is unknown.

Private-owned dams in need of expensive repairs can be a problem. There are few, if any, dam repair assistance programs and rarely does the state order such repairs.

Meanwhile, state-owned, high-hazard dams are in pretty good shape, according to some officials. Plus, state leaders have shown a strong willingness to quickly fix problems.

The School and Public Lands has spent about $85,000 to repair three of its dams between 2017 and 2018. “Anytime we’ve presented a high-hazard dam that needs repair, the governor and legislature have provided funding,” said School and Public Lands Commissioner Ryan Brunner.

This year, Brunner said his office will spend more than $500,000 to replace the spillway on Elm Lake north of Aberdeen, adding to the roughly $1.25 million the office has spent on dam repair over the past six years.

All the money has come from special appropriations made by the state Legislature.

The Elm Lake dam project, for example, is projected to cost more than $1.5 million. The city of Aberdeen and other partners will contribute about $1 million, he said.

There are plenty other examples of dam problems in this region and across the state.

Aging dams and reservoirs are not a problem that will disappear. And they are not a problem we can afford to fix after it’s too late.


Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, July 9

Trees and the impact on climate change

As the world continues to deal with the issue of climate change, can trees become a vital component in the fight?

That’s a very vast idea put forth last week by a study published in the magazine Science. A report suggested that planting trees — lots of them — could be the least expensive and most effective method at humanity’s disposal to deal with climate change.

The idea is more complex than that, and it’s also controversial. But certain aspects of the science do have a basis in logic.

The researchers said that planting a trillion trees globally could potentially remove about 67 percent of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions created by humans since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-18th century. That’s about 205 billion metric tons of carbon. This would also cut about 25 percent of the overall CO2 from the atmosphere.

This theory is based on elemental plant science: Trees absorb carbon dioxide, which is a major factor in creating climate change, and a worldwide effort to expand the world’s tree base would help clear the air, so to speak.

“This is by far — by thousands of times — the cheapest climate change solution,” stated study co-author Thomas Crowther, who is a climate change ecologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

Of course, a trillion trees IS a lot. Scientists estimate this would require reforesting land area about the size of the United States. To put it in better perspective, the plan calls for adding from 1 trillion to 1.5 trillion trees to the earth’s landscape; the world’s current tree inventory is estimated at about 3 trillion trees.

The architects of the plan said there is enough space in the world to add these forests of new trees without impacting cities or current agricultural land.

Still, essentially planting vast new forests would be a “monumental challenge,” Crowther admitted.

What’s more, more than this would be needed to combat the effects of climate change. Crowther said a significant reduction in carbon emissions would still be needed in order to make the plan work. In a way, the trees would be something akin to a healing process for the planet while humans worked to pull back from burning fossil fuels.

Also, the plan would effectively target deforestation practices that have long taken place in the Amazon, where rainforests are being cut down to make way for more agriculture. That, one might assume, would have to end.

The calculation of the space needed would also presumably not allow for much more human expansion, which would be rather problematic, to say the least.

There are those who are skeptical or dismissive of this idea as the most effective way of dealing with the global climate crisis. And indeed, it could be only one front among many in addressing this issue, and probably not the paramount priority in dealing with greenhouse gases.

Nevertheless, expanding the world’s forests can have a healthy impact on this planet, and as such, this idea could be the basis for future global priorities as we continue to address climate change and its critical impact. While it’s not a silver bullet, the concept can be a valuable piece of an overall approach.

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