The president of North Dakota Long Term Care Association made a comment that was offensive, inexcusable, inaccurate and beyond explanation.
We know this because the president of the North Dakota Long Term Care Association says so.
And she owns it and unequivocally apologizes for it, which is somewhat disarming in this age of deflection and obfuscation.
She would be Shelly Peterson, the longtime leader of the organization that represents assisted living, basic care and nursing facilities in the state. In an interview with TV station Valley News Live focusing on North Dakota nursing homes hit hardest by COVID-19, Peterson offered this as an explanation as to how the virus might've gotten into facilities in Fargo:
"What's unique about Fargo, and that's different about the rest of the state, is that they have a great New American population and sometimes we see them living in larger households. And more people, that's greater risks for exposure."
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That a theory blaming New Americans for COVID infections would air on Valley News Live is not a surprise. That it was a long-term care advocate and not Chris Berg doing the blaming, however, is.
There's no evidence that New Americans, who are critical workers in long-term care facilities in Fargo and elsewhere, are responsible for spreading the coronavirus.
"There are no words to describe how sorry I am," Peterson said when reached by The Forum on Wednesday, May 27. "I'm sorry. It's very regretful. I can't even begin to say how sorry I am. I'm just sorry."
"It's the furthest thing from the truth," Peterson continued. "We would not be able to do what we do in our North Dakota facilities without New Americans. We would not be able to provide the level of care we provide to those in our facilities without them. I apologize."
Peterson couldn't provide figures as to how many recent immigrants work in nursing homes in North Dakota, but said repeatedly they are an important and indispensable part of the state's long-term health care system.
Her TV comments drew immediate and strong rebuke from advocacy groups for New Americans and minorities.
"Across the country, COVID-19 has ravaged nursing care facilities, leading to high rates of infection and death. But somehow in Fargo, it is the New Americans who have been the main drivers of the pandemic? Hardly," Hukan Dabar, executive director of Afro American Development Association, wrote in a letter to the editor in The Forum. "What is true is that our community is placed at high risk for infection and is the least considered by the current system of public health. Unlike human beings COVID-19 does not discriminate. It knows no race."
In another letter to The Forum, North Dakota Human Rights Coalition member Nyamal Dei wrote she was frustrated Peterson didn't apologize before the Memorial Day weekend. The Valley News Live story ran May 19.
"New Americans provide critical support in nursing homes and senior living facilities across North Dakota. They care for our elderly parents and develop lasting, meaningful relationships. They are commonly on the front line in the pandemic and need and deserve our support," Dei wrote.
Peterson said she watched a video of her statement to the television station and said, "Oh my God."
"It was the one of the darkest moments of my life," she said.
Peterson has spoken with members of the Human Rights Coalition and hopes to set up a Zoom meeting soon, once she gets some computer problems fixed. She said it was "a good conversation" and they "are on the same side."
"We are supporters of New Americans. We need more of them in this country. We have jobs waiting for them when they get here," Peterson said. "We could not do what we do without them and we need more of them."
Everything Peterson said in a five-minute conversation Wednesday was positive. She apologized profusely. She accepted responsibility. She didn't make excuses. She didn't use the non-apology apologies that so many use these days. You know, the "I'm sorry if anybody was offended" language.
She straight-up owned what she said and apologized multiple times.
Which leads to the obvious question: So why did she say what she said?
"I have no explanation. It was not accurate. It was not correct. I shouldn't have said it. You can't explain anything that's simply wrong and I won't. I apologize. I am sorry," Peterson said.