US Senator John Thune’s Weekly Column: Closing the Health Care Gap

thuneheadernew John_Thune,_official_portrait,_111th_CongressClosing the Health Care Gap
By Sen. John Thune

The wide open spaces that make South Dakota such a unique place to live, work, and raise a family define our landscape, provide habitat for pheasants and other wildlife, and help make agriculture our state’s top industry. While the open air and vast plains certainly have their benefits, they can oftentimes present some big challenges too. Proximity to grocery stores, shopping centers, or other day-to-day necessities is obviously important, but what’s critical for families across rural areas, like those in South Dakota, is the availability and access to high quality health care.

One of my goals in Washington is to make it easier and cheaper to provide quick access to health care facilities and medical professionals to all South Dakotans. Closing the gap between the care that our rural communities currently receive and the care they deserve is important, and legislation I authored will help make that gap get even smaller.

As chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, I’m in a unique position where I’m able to help advance legislation that directly benefits the people of South Dakota, and I take that responsibility seriously. Since taking over as chairman last year, I’ve looked for opportunities to pursue legislation to achieve that goal.

Last November, the committee took up and unanimously approved my bill, the Rural Health Care Connectivity Act, which will help streamline the process for skilled nursing facilities across the state, like nursing homes, to tap into federal funding for telecommunications and broadband services used to provide health care to rural communities. The full Senate recognized the importance of my legislation, which is why my colleagues approved the bill by voice vote and sent it to the president for his signature.

The Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society (Good Sam), which is headquartered in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, operates hundreds of skilled nursing facilities throughout the country. Most of them are located in rural communities. Through technical advancements and infrastructure located at their headquarters in Sioux Falls, Good Sam remotely connects rural patients with hospitals and doctors who are hundreds – sometimes thousands – of miles away.

Good Sam’s president and CEO, David Horazdovsky, praised the Senate’s passage of my bill, saying it “will offer much-needed assistance to residents of Good Samaritan and other skilled nursing care centers in a variety of locations in South Dakota and in other rural areas of the country.”

If everything in Washington was viewed through a prism of effectiveness and efficiency, we’d all be better for it. Telehealth meets both those standards, and I’m proud to be a part of this movement in any way I can, because making it easier for health care facilities to establish the necessary infrastructure for bringing telehealth even further into the 21st century is an investment worth making.