Eye on KELOLAND: Caring for a community


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — March 10th marks one year since the first COVID-19 cases were announced in South Dakota.

Over the past 12 months, we’ve received a lot of updates from our state and local leaders on the fight against the virus.

One of the people who played a critical role in Sioux Falls’ response is the city’s public health director.

With a background in nursing, Jill Franken knows what it’s like to take care of patients.

Even today as the city’s public health director she still feels a similar responsibility.

“I behave and I feel as if Sioux Falls is my patient,” City of Sioux Falls public health director Franken said.

Franken became public health director in 2010, although she started her career with the city in 2000.

Franken has taken on several big, yet rewarding tasks in her career, including helping lead the Link Community Triage Center project, which is slated to open later this year.

“That’s been a real personal commitment of mine to really do everything I can to help make that a reality in our community so that we have better access to addiction services, treatment services, as well as the needs of people with urgent care needs around psychiatric crisis,” Franken said.

Her biggest test of all came last year with the arrival of COVID-19.

“I remember when we had that moment of knowing that it was here in our community, in this area,” Franken said.

Franken served as incident command for the city’s emergency operations center.

“Probably one of the most intense things early on was the planning section because we needed information and there was just no information really at the beginning. It was very difficult to get that information, so we just started asking ourselves, ‘What do we need to know about this? And how can we find out more about that?'” Franken said.

Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken says there’s no city employee or director that he spent more time with from March to July than Jill.

“A lot of people don’t realize that the City of Sioux Falls has a public health department and we have a public health director whose role is to oversee public health in our community, making sure the community is safe and is vaccinated appropriately and that we’re taking the right precautions to keep the community safe. So if people didn’t know we had a public health director a year ago, they sure know now because of the role Jill has had to play,” Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken said.

Kelli Volk: What was the most challenging part in your role during the pandemic?
Franken: I think it was kind of the sort of competing dialogue in the information flow that was out there and how to continue to find out where’s good information, solid information and how to best communicate that and make sure people knew what that good information was.

Franken says great progress is being made in the fight against COVID-19, but she says the work isn’t over.

“I think we just need to hang on for, hopefully, a couple or three more months of really working hard as a community and in communities to really do the best that we can,” Franken said.

Franken is getting ready to say goodbye to her office.

On April 12th, the former nurse will retire from this city that she cared for for years.

“It’s always difficult when you’ve had a patient that you’ve taken care of for a long period of time to say goodbye to a patient and that’s something that I’ve really had to reflect on and be able to know that I have given it my all just like any patient I cared for the many years I was a nurse. And I think I’ve left my patient, or community healthier than when I started, and so that makes me feel very gratified,” Franken said.

TenHaken says the city had dozens of applicants for the public health director job from around the country.

They hope to name their selection within the next month.

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