Sioux Falls’ health care expanding with population growth

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Sioux Falls population hit a major milestone this year, topping 200,000 residents for the first time.

City leaders say that milestone is thanks to another 6,750 people moving to Sioux Falls just last year, adding to the steady 2 to 3 percent growth the city has seen every year for more than a decade.

“The growth of this city is so amazing,” Avera McKennan Hospital & University Center CEO David Flicek said. 

“It’s been explosive really if you think about it,” Sanford Health Vice President of Operations Andy Munce said. 

Unprecedented population growth coming right in the middle of a historic time in health care.

“Not only has Sioux Falls been growing exponentially, it’s been happening during and through a pandemic,” Munce said. 

The combination of those two factors has meant a lot more work for anyone in health care.

“We have had during the pandemic an interesting last couple of years,” Flicek said. “There was a time when no one was coming to the ER, then there’s a time when it’s overflowing. Our urgent care closes at 9 o’clock, there were times it was open until 11:30 at night because there were so many patients coming.”

“Over the past couple of years our walk in volumes are up anywhere from 20 to 40 percent,” Munce said.

It has meant some longer wait times, especially for certain specialty fields of health care, but both Avera Health and Sanford Health in Sioux Falls are doing everything they can to keep up with the growth.

“By and large I would say we’ve been able to meet the demands of the patients in this community,” Flicek said.

That’s thanks in large part to the long-term strategic planning both health systems are constantly updating to make sure they have enough space to keep serving new patients who move to town.

“These last couple of years, you’ve seen a lot of projects or announcements that Sanford Health has moved forward with, that’s a result of this planning,” Munce said.

Munce recently announced the groundbreaking of a new medical building on Sanford’s central campus, adding hundreds of parking spaces and an expanded GI clinic.

Sanford is also in the process of building a new clinic in Harrisburg that’s set to open yet this fall with plans to begin construction on another clinic on the northeast side of Sioux Falls. That growth continues the past five years of additions to Sanford’s facilities in the Sioux Falls area.

“In 2018, we opened our west side clinic, in 2019 we opened up acute care at the sports complex, in 2020 we increased some inpatient beds related to that volume we were seeing,” Munce said.

Avera is also in the process of adding a long list of new facilities: the most recent announcement will add a new floor and another 26 beds to the brand-new Avera on Louise Specialty Hospital.

“That hospital will be completely full after three and a half years and through a pandemic,” Flicek said. “It’s amazing how much growth we have had through areas like orthopedics, dermatology, rheumatology and GI.” 

Avera is also adding a new wing with four floors and several new services to the Behavior Health Hospital.

“We’ll have addiction care for adolescents, that will be new, and a 24/7 psychiatric urgent care so as people have an acute crisis, they’ll have a place to go,” Flicek said.

Flicek says the goal of these additions is to take some pressure and traffic away from the central Avera campus on Cliff Avenue and give more neighborhood access to emergency care.

“We are excited about our new Family Health Center at Highway 11 and 26th Street,” Flicek said. “We will have family medicine, pediatrics, internal medicine, OB and dermatology. It will have seven day a week urgent care and a full-service emergency room.”

It’s similar to what Avera did on the west side of town, adding another team of emergency medical providers near Lake Lorraine.

“We hire roughly around 40 physicians in the Sioux Falls market a year and about another 30 advanced practice professionals,” Flicek said.

“To provide care you have to have a workforce,” Munce said.

But while both health systems are building new facilities, their top priorities right now are recruiting more health care workers.

“Year over year, we’re really increasing our population of providers anywhere from 5 to 10 percent, so we’re matching what we’re seeing from a growth standpoint in the community to help offset that from a growth standpoint in our medical services,” Munce said.

“There is some science behind how and when you add a physician. For every 2,500 new population you could hire a family doctor, for every 5,000 population you can add an endocrinologist,” Flicek said.

But with every new physician comes a need for even more hard-to-find support staff.

“You add a physician, in the past, you could get a nurse right away. Now it might take 3 weeks or 4 weeks or 6 weeks to get a nurse to come work for that pediatrician,” Flicek said.

“That’s the biggest thing our workforce needs now, they need additional help. What can we do now to help make the work a little lighter?” Munce said.

From scholarships, to sign on bonuses, and pay increases, both health systems are getting creative to continue recruiting the workforce needed to serve the growing community as the pandemic continues to impact workforce.

“Three weeks ago we had 600 people out with covid, so that is hard to take care of patients when you have that much workforce out of the office,” Flicek said.

But the pandemic has also helped Avera and Sanford recruit health care providers from other states over the past year.

“We have had numbers of people wanting to leave bigger cities for South Dakota this past year,” Flicek said.

“So we are contributing to that growth in Sioux Falls too,” Munce said. “But Sioux Falls is just such a great place it got such a great story; it’s a great place to raise a family, a place to be proud of and a very attractive opportunity for physicians.

A lot of the health care growth in Sioux Falls has been in specialty fields like orthopedics, GI and dermatology. Both Avera and Sanford say it’s possible the city’s continued population growth could lead to even more specialized medical fields coming to town, making Sioux Falls even more of a regional hub for health care.

“The high-end specialties that are specific in their disease, they like the larger population which means they can see more patients,” Flicek said. “Sometimes a community is too small they can’t really fulfill their specialty and what they’re trained for.”

“One of the things that really shows competence and good outcomes, you have to have a sustained volume of procedures or patients,” Munce said. “The worst thing we could do is start a new service and then you don’t have enough patients and then your quality suffers.”

Both Munce and Flicek says Sioux Falls already has an incredibly robust medical footprint that offers a large majority of any medical service patients may need. They say that footprint will only grow and expand as the city continues to grow.  

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