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A rural South Dakota healthcare leader was chosen to contribute valuable insights as a member of the Coronavirus Commission on Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes.  Mark Burket, chief executive officer for Platte Health Center Avera, was chosen from among 800 applicants to join the diverse group of 25 healthcare leaders representing a variety of expertise, affiliations, backgrounds and geography.

With 29 years of experience and a passion for long-term care, Burket felt compelled to apply in an effort to impact the health and safety of rural nursing home residents.

Mark Burket“Rural health is not typically at the forefront when it comes to national policy and planning.  People tend to focus on the world they live in, and for most, that is a populous world,” Burket commented.

Led by Dr. Jay J. Schnitzer, MITRE’s chief medical and technology officer, the Commission will conduct a comprehensive assessment of the nursing home response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Results from the assessment will provide valuable data for developing evidence-based interventions for immediate and future use.

“I want to be able to utilize science to balance with reality,” Burket explained. “How do we address quality of life? How do we address mental health while using the science?  Science will tell us if we close ourselves in, we won’t get COVID-19. We need to find a balance to define and live with the new normal while maximizing quality of life.” 

Quality of life is examined within the three key areas identified for the Commission’s recommendation of action and best practices:

  • Ensuring nursing home residents are protected from COVID-19 and improving the responsiveness of care delivery to maximize the quality of life for residents;
  • Strengthening efforts to enable rapid and effective identification and mitigation of COVID-19 transmission (and other infectious disease) in nursing homes; and
  • Enhancing strategies to improve compliance with infection control policies in response to COVID-19.

Nursing homes across the country have been implementing new protocols and evaluating infection prevention practices throughout the public health emergency. Great Plains Quality Innovation Network (QIN) staff are providing technical assistance and tools to advance quality improvement efforts. In addition to their own efforts, Platte Care Center was among the nursing facility leaders who received infection prevention tools and resources from the Great Plains QIN team.

“Our facility has been doing a lot of mitigation planning and education to staff and the community,” Burket shared. “The first few weeks was a hard push, and after the sixth or seventh week we developed some comforts. Our Avera affiliation allows us to utilize their experts and we meet weekly to review the facts and CDC guidelines.”

As the pandemic response took precedence, routine care was pushed to the side creating additional challenges, especially for those in rural areas.  As the number of cases across the region has steadied, healthcare facilities are now reopening and expanding their care services.

Burket commented on the impact of delayed care, “Those managing hypertension or diagnosed with diabetes can get by for a duration, but they run the risk for complications without routine monitoring. Telemedicine for our facility was developed back in the 90s, and it has been a God-send for conducting nursing home video visits.”

Telehealth expansion by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) during the pandemic is one of various initiatives with long-term potential. The Commission will be reviewing these and other initiatives while also addressing CMS’ five-part plan to ensure safety and quality in America’s nursing homes, which was unveiled in April 2019. 

“These are unprecedented times for nursing homes,” shared Dee Kaser, RN, CDEC, quality improvement advisor for the Great Plains QIN. “Each facility is facing the challenges of adjusting to resident safety, family engagement, equipment shortages and the recent testing protocols. Through it all, their concern and care for their residents continues to shine through.”