South Dakota task force identifies gaps in mental health services for first responders

Capitol News Bureau

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PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A state task force on mental health among first responders in South Dakota began listing services that aren’t available Thursday. 

Senator VJ Smith called for a clearinghouse with a paid statewide director and perhaps a small staff. “It cannot be done on a volunteer basis. It’s way too large of a load,” the Brookings Republican said. “It’s the old idea of putting your money where your mouth is.” 

Smith also suggested a mobile training group that could travel town to town.

Another suggestion was that South Dakota join PSYPACT, a national-level organization of telepsychology providers who deliver services across state lines. One of South Dakota’s neighbors, Nebraska, is among 16 states that are PSYPACT members. Minnesota, Iowa and Wyoming considered legislation this year. 

The South Dakota task force has meetings scheduled for November 12 and December 10. The group intends to offer ideas for the 2021 session.

The study resulted from legislation that Representative Ryan Cwach, a Yankton Democrat, introduced this year seeking post-traumatic stress syndrome among first responders to be covered by workers’ compensation. His bill was killed but led to the task force. Cwach is the vice chairman. 

The task force chairwoman, Representative Rhonda Milstead, won approval of a concurrent resolution encouraging the Legislature’s Executive Board to assign a study on the broader topic. The Hartford Republican on Thursday read an opening statement summarizing testimonies from two previous meetings of the task force.

“Acceptance is the window we need to act on, now, not later,” Milstead said. “The long game is the missing piece.” 

Tim Doyle, a lieutenant with the Rapid City police department and vice president for the South Dakota Fraternal Order of Police, said he went through “something most people don’t go through.” He was shot in the head during an attack in 2011 that killed two other Rapid City officers. 

Doyle said “the day to day stuff” has affected him more than “nearly dying.” He called for help to smaller agencies and offices. “Let take care of ‘em,” he said. “Cause this job does take a toll on you.” 

Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom said his department chose to hire a wellness coordinator to work with employees and their families, including emergency-medical services and correction staff too. The department has more than 400 employees.

One of the sheriff’s administrators, Stephanie McCoy, said the department began using peer-support teams in May and also engages mental-health resources.

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