Viewpoint: Proud of response of North Dakota's long-term care providers

Shelly Peterson is president of the North Dakota Long Term Care Association. (Submitted photo, 2020)

As president of the North Dakota Long Term Care Association, I am in awe of the dedication of facility staff, families of residents and our state government to protecting the health of North Dakota’s most vulnerable population.

Like the rest of our nation, this pandemic was not something we anticipated, but – together – we have responded in ways simply not possible in many states. If I may, I’d like to walk through this journey and shine a light on some of the many above-and-beyond actions that have quietly taken place. As early as mid-March, staff from the North Dakota Department of Health visited all 218 long-term care facilities across our state. They provided invaluable on-site assessment and evaluation to help our teams develop COVID-19 response plans and protective measures to deal with the many “what ifs?” that were about to occur.

Facility staff members used these assessments and guidance from the CDC to put in place protocols and restrictions to protect the almost 10,000 residents under their care.

It’s difficult to put into words how proud I am of this response. What many people don’t realize is that most long-term care providers work in this demanding field because they consider it a calling. If asked, they will tell you they believe they are doing what they were meant to do. Dietary, maintenance, housekeeping, activities, social work, nursing staff and so many more – oftentimes these dedicated professionals become a second family to the residents they serve.

Clearly, our long-term care teams have stepped up to the plate. While protective measures do not allow family members to visit loved ones, these individuals are working tirelessly to fill the void. They are conduits of communication between residents and families. If there is a bright spot in this pandemic – a silver lining, of sorts – it is the resourcefulness staff members have shown in bridging this gap. The stress of COVID-19 is weighing heavily on all of us, but I can assure families their loved ones are receiving compassionate care.


All of us want visitation restrictions to be lifted and families to be reunited. That is the mission of a statewide NDLTCA task force chaired by Chris Larson, a resident of Luther Memorial Home in Mayville. This dedicated group also includes residents’ family members, Gov. Doug Burgum, the North Dakota Department of Human Services and the North Dakota Department of Health. Our governor and both state agencies have been valuable partners throughout this crisis and have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to providing adequate resources to our long-term care facilities. I have great faith this team will develop the protocols needed for a safe return to normalcy as soon as possible.

Until then, I encourage everyone to continue working together. Our state’s long-term care facilities understand there is no quick fix. The demands on these dedicated men and women will not let up anytime soon, but appreciation for their heroic role in this pandemic response is something each of us can provide. I hope you will join me in offering them the recognition they so deeply deserve.

Long-term care staff – thank you for your continued commitment to the residents in your care and your relentless response to these challenging times.

Shelly Peterson is president of the North Dakota Long Term Care Association.

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