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Watertown tech school intends to offer community health care worker program

PIERRE -- Lake Area Technical Institute received permission Tuesday to start a program for training community health care workers in fall 2017. The state Board of Education gave its approval Tuesday. The plan calls for the Watertown campus to off...

PIERRE - Lake Area Technical Institute received permission Tuesday to start a program for training community health care workers in fall 2017.

The state Board of Education gave its approval Tuesday. The plan calls for the Watertown campus to offer three levels of training. There would be a six-month certificate for registered nurses, a one-year diploma and a two-year associate degree.

The school's officials expect 18 to 20 students in the first year.

It's the first of its kind in South Dakota and possibly in the region, according to Tiffany Sanders, director for the state Division of Career and Technical Education.

Mike Cartney, who is LATI's president, said the federal Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare, encourages the use of community health care workers to deliver services that would be more expensive if nurses or doctors performed them.

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Those services, such as wellness checks, arranging tele-health appointments and contacting providers, often occur in patients' homes rather than a clinic or hospital.

He said the workers would be valuable in rural settings and for Indian Health Service patients.

"Other parts of the nation use community health care workers frequently," Cartney said. "It's something that's needed in South Dakota."

A community health care worker can bill for services that a registered nurse cannot under Obamacare, he said.

The state Board of Nursing and the state Department of Health would need to set the rules and scope of permitted activities.

The request from LATI featured letters of support from Prairie Lakes Healthcare System at Watertown, Huron Regional Medical Center and Coteau des Prairies Health Care System at Sisseton.

Board member Scott Herman of Mission, who is a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, said people are looking to become what he said are called health care representatives back home.

He said EMTs and others involved in healthcare "burn out" but want to stay involved in other roles such as health care representatives.

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"There is a need out there for them," Herman said.

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