Healthcare leaders call on Rapid City officials to take action against COVID-19
RAPID CITY, S.D. – West River healthcare leaders are calling on Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender and the City Council to make “challenging decisions” to protect the public during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an open letter to Rapid City and South Dakota state government and public health officials, leaders from multiple West River medical agencies request that the city quickly take action to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the region.
The letter reads:
This is an unprecedented time. We face the COVID-19 pandemic that will challenge every single one of
us. While we appreciate the tireless efforts of those involved in managing this crisis, it falls short of
what we feel will make a true impact.
Throughout the world, the most effective responses to the historic threat of COVID-19 have come from
state and local governments. Using that history as evidence, we must shut down all unnecessary travel
and utilize social distancing and self-isolation to stop the spread of the disease. Failing to heed warnings
will lead to an exponential spread and will incapacitate our local healthcare system resulting in deaths.
We will face an overwhelming flood of patients requiring intensive care and ventilator support. Death
rates for those over the age of 70 is over 8% and for those over 80, approaches 15%. Using even
conservative estimates, ventilator and intensive care beds will be exceeded. Supply lines are limited and
will quickly be diminished. Waiting to act will kill more people while taking aggressive action now will
help to limit the severity of this pandemic and allow the system to serve those most in need. Based on a
recent Harvard study, the Rapid City area could experience 40,000 sick, 8000 hospitalized, and 400
requiring a ventilator (*we have fewer than 80 ventilators in Rapid City). Untold will die. We must
protect those most vulnerable in our community.
Therefore, we the physicians of the Black Hills, advocate implementing all of the following:
1. Self-isolate at home except for essential needs and practice social distancing;
2. Stop non-essential travel: most importantly airline and public transportation;
3. Close non-essential businesses: restaurants and other facilities that prepare and serve food
(except for take-away), bars, salons, retail stores, clubs, gyms, schools, daycares, social events,
4. Conserve medical supplies;
5. Limit nonessential healthcare operations.
Crucial mitigation strategies, prompt intervention, and our remote location offer us a unique
opportunity to stop the disease. We recognize that many of these interventions are already front of
mind for our government; but our public officials also face competing priorities including concerns about
the economic, political, and social impact of these measures. The balance of those concerns is greatly
outweighed by the health and safety risk facing our community and our responsibility to those most
vulnerable among us. Now is the time to take further action. You must not hesitate; we need decisive
- Stephen Miller, MD, President of Black Hills Medical Society
- Stephen Miller, MD, President of Rapid City Emergency Medical Services (Emergency Room doctors)
- Andrea Baier, MD – Chief of Medical Staff, Monument Health
- Luke Mortimer, MD – President of Black Hills Ortho & Spine Center
- Lew Papendick, MD – Chairman of Black Hills Surgical Hospital
- Margaret Kuehler, MD – Managing Partner, Black Hills Pediatrics
- Rebecca Linquist, MD, President Rapid City Medical Center
- Rob Schleiffarth, MD, President, West River ENT
- Stuart Rice, MD, President, Black Hills Neurosurgery and Spine
Mayor Allender responded to the letter, saying, “There’s not clear medical consensus in our community regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. Some positions are taking the stance that the city should direct the closure of certain businesses and that not doing so risks lives; while others indicate more evidence is needed to justify such severe action. This leaves the city in a position to choose which group to listen to, and which group to ignore.”