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Workforce Housing is “Mission Critical” for Rural Facility

Feb 23, 2018 03:07PM ● By Alex Strauss

Anyone in a leadership position at a rural healthcare facility will tell you that recruitment is tough. Often, the higher level the position, the longer it takes to fill and the harder it is to keep a person in it. For Avera St. Benedict Health Center in Parkston, just filling CNA positions at their nursing home is a major challenge. Like a lot of rural facilities, they cannot afford to miss out on a great candidate because the community doesn’t have enough housing.

“Many times, we have had the chance to hire someone, but couldn’t find a place for them to live in our community,” says Avera St. Benedict President and CEO, Rita Blasius. So Avera St. Benedict, in partnership with Avera Health and the Parkston Area Development Foundation decided on what Blasius calls a “bold move” to make it happen.

They found a Mitchell developer willing to build a new four-plex apartment building in Parkston, helped fund the project in order to keep rents affordable, and signed a five-year rental agreement on two of the apartments to ensure that they would be occupied. The building opened in October.

“Available housing that is decent and affordable is essential for a small healthcare center like ours,” says Blasius. “When we are fortunate enough to get someone hired, many times that person needs to live in the community because they have call responsibilities, etc.”

The South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations considers the issue of workforce recruitment and retention so important for medicine in the region, that they have established a website dedicated to supporting facilities like Avera St. Benedict in their efforts.

Right now, the two rented apartments are being used to house medical students in the FARM (Frontier And Rural Medicine) program during their nine-month stay in Parkston. The other two are home to people who are also working in town. Blasius says the new housing isn’t just a ‘win’ for the health center, but for the entire community as new residents boost the tax base and support economic development. 

“If a healthcare professional has a choice between two equal jobs and communities, the housing may be the deciding factor,” says Blasius. “We just felt like it was mission-critical for us to support this project.”

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