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Regional says they have taken immediate action on medical waste protocols

A senior Region Health official said Friday that the company is taking new steps to make sure medical waste is being disposed of properly. 

In a video posted to Facebook on Friday afternoon, Paulette Davidson, chief operating officer and president for Regional Health Rapid City Hospital and Rapid City Market, said that "99.9 percent" of Regional's waste has been disposed of properly, and they're working on reaching the rest.

"We know we can do better, and we will remain committed to the environment," Davidson said. "We will address this important issue." 

The video arrives after a week where the hospital has been under criticism following an article in last Sunday's Rapid City Journal that health investigators in 2017 cited the local hospital as non-compliant for improperly sending medical waste to the city landfill. According to the city's public works directors, those violations have continued throughout the past year. 

"You may have seen news reports about disposal of medical waste from our Rapid City hospital," opens Davidson. "We want you to know that Regional Health is committed to meeting standards and all regulations governing the disposal of medical waste."

In sharing new information, Davidson said that between January of 2017 and March of 2018, Regional disposed of approximately 285,000 bags to the Rapid City landfill.

"Only 254 bags or less than one-tenth of one percent were incorrectly disposed of, "Davidson said, "And those bags were retrieved and removed from the landfill immediately."

In her video, Davidson sought to assuage community's risk by listing safety updates included on last year's improvement plan — such as additional training for staff and more monitoring — as well as new measures, such as off-site sorting and labeling of bags by department, so that if improperly disposed of bags do reach the landfill, their origin can be traced back for added scrutiny.

Davidson also revealed that South Dakota Department of Health surveyors, on request from the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services, paid an "unannounced and unscheduled" visit to the Rapid City hospital this week.

Davidson said the surveyors "applauded" the hospital "for going above and beyond" the expectations laid forth in their April 2017 improvement plan.

After surveyors visited on April 25 and 26 of last year, documenting both red bags filled with medically infectious materials and regular, clear garbage bags with improperly collated medical waste being deposited by the hospital's private hauler at the city landfill, the hospital on April 27, 2017, put forward a plan to state investigators to correct their safety violations.

A hospital found noncompliant can risk being cut off from federal health funding, including repayments from Medicaid, Medicare, and Indian Health Service.

In June of 2017, a letter shared with the Rapid City Journal from CMS stated that Regional Hospital had been found in good standing again.

However, in press conferences this week, city public works officials stated that unregulated medical waste continues to be deposited at the city's landfill, even after these improvement plans.

Davidson also noted that Regional continues to partner with Stericycle, who is contracted to bring medical waste red bags to Denver for rendering, and Compass One, a healthcare support services provider, who operates the environmental services department at Regional, overseeing the custodians who sort and trucks who haul the medical waste to the landfill.

In a statement released last week to the Journal, a Compass One spokesperson said, "We have been partners with Regional Health to bring awareness and training on this important issue (disposal of medical waste) to every person in the hospital."

The company added that it will continue their efforts and "broaden their scope."

Ryan Hermens, Journal staff 

Joree Sandin, second from left, of Greeley, Colo., listens to the commencement address Saturday. Sandin studied mechanical engineering.

Mines graduate pilots mentoring program for female engineers

When Joree Sandin walked across the stage to accept her bachelor's degree Saturday at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology in Rapid City, she was one of the women graduating in the school's popular mechanical engineering major.

The other is her friend.

"I represent 50 percent (of the graduating women with mechanical engineering degrees)," Sandin said on Wednesday afternoon in the student success director's office.

Mines, like many science and engineering colleges across the nation, has put in place programming to help address the low number of women in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) pipeline. At first glance, the impact of these initiatives may seem soft. Sandin's mechanical engineering class has over 60 graduates and started with 45 first-year women. That's — even non-math majors can see — not a great retention percentage.

But school officials say to see the fruits of this programming requires looking beyond the numbers and talking to the students.

"I absolutely have loved it here (Mines)," Sandin said.

She has slipped away from her studies to meet up in student success director Lisa Carlson's office on the Rapid City campus, and what's on her mind is Friday night. Not graduation eve parties, but her final, final exam at 6 p.m. "It's just Probability and Statistics," Sandin said, with a shrug. "It's challenging, but yesterday I had Viscoelastic Solids and Machine Design II together in the same day. That was rough."

In her nonchalance, Sandin is like many Mines graduates: smart, disciplined, unabashed in their love of rigorous subjects. How she's different in an obvious way — her gender — is, according to demographic data shared with the Journal, actually becoming less of an extreme outlier than in past years. In 2018, school officials shared numbers showing more women are currently enrolled than at any time in the school's modern history. And while women boast an enrollment of 22 percent (nearly one in four), this a big increase from the 1990s, when women numbered closer to one in seven.

Lastly, in terms of year-to-year retention at Mines, women actually outperform men 88 to 81 percent.

"Some on campus have started to ask how can we help our struggling male students?" said Carlson, with tongue-in-cheek. She helped pilot a successful women-mentoring-women program in the mechanical engineering department.

Industry demands increasingly diverse workforces, and while colleges across the country are doubling down to find ways to increase the number of women in STEM (and while Mines would admit they can do more), Mines believes it is ahead of the curve with a female mentoring program called Women in Science and Engineering. 

Building space for women

Carlson doesn't have any degrees in the sciences. A Black Hills native, she has an MBA from Chadron State. But Carlson understands people, and that's universal to academic programming.

"You might be the only woman in your Mechanical Engineering 110 class, and there's like 130 students," Carlson said. "Women students often feel isolated because it's such a large department with so few women.

When she arrived at Mines in 2011, she was housed in the Mechanical Engineering department, working on accreditation, when administrators asked her to think about recruitment and retention efforts for women majors. She started by reviving the dormant WISE organization, a female peer mentoring program. In two years, Carlson said enrollment of women in Mechanical Engineering doubled, from 5 percent to 9.5 percent. But she wanted to do more.

"So many women students would come up to me and say, 'I wish we just had a space,'" Carlson said.

So in 2015, Carlson opened the WISE office on the second floor of the McLaury Building on campus. The "office" is part-study area, part-stop-off space for students during the school day.

"A woman can come in here (the WISE room) and let her guard down," said Carlson, noting that men are often seen in the room.

Mechanical engineering is a tough field that can weed out many students. According to the Society of Women Engineers, in 2014, women represented 20 percent of mechanical engineer graduates. But much of the current literature on how to improve the numbers in the pipeline focuses on bringing women together.

"I wanted to make sure it didn't look or feel or smell like anything on campus," said Carlson, speaking from a comfortable couch. A poster of Mae Jemison, the first African-American astronaut, hangs above her. On tables, three women study with laptops open, earbuds in. Other women come and go frequently. The coffee is on, there's a chalk-wall displaying inspirational phrases, and the door is open to a room specifically designated as the "quiet room," used occasionally for naps. 

"Some people call it the 'crying room,'" Carlson said, whispering, "But I don't like using that term."

Crying right be the best coping mechanism, male or female, for a curriculum steeped with required classes like Thermodynamics II and Mechatronics & Measurement Systems. But part of Mines' mission with WISE is updating old stereotypes about women and girls. In one video linked to on Mines' website, titled "SDSM&T Barbie," a young girl who has her doll stolen by a boy outfits a drone to retrieve her stolen property, all with the theme music from Mission Impossible playing.

"It's important for women to be able to get together with other women and not feel any external pressure to be what society wants them to be," Carlson said.

Attracting girls to the sciences 

Andrea Brickey, associate professor of mining, engineering, and management at Mines, said she wanted to be an engineer after visiting space camp as a 12-year-old. During a mock shuttle mission, she had wanted to be an astronaut but got assigned the role of flight director.

"I loved solving problems," Brickey said. "And when the bomb bay doors on the shuttle wouldn't close, it's the engineers who are running the show on the ground."

Brickey's love of engineering at 12 runs converse to a 2017 European study showing that girls around the age of 11 start losing interest in sciences. Part of this, the study suggests, is because girls don't see science as "cool" or appealing for women.

The mistaken beliefs that technical or "hard" science education is somehow naturally a distinctly male discipline are rampant. In 2005, then-President of Harvard Larry Summers sparked controversy when he remarked at a conference on diversifying science and engineering workforces that "intrinsic aptitude" may explain the lack for women in science and engineering fields. But many researchers have since suggested that "aptitude" is often motivated more by cultural circumstances than anything "intrinsic."

Brickey said in graduate school a colleague handed her a magazine article from the 1950s geared toward mothers urging them to push their sons, but not daughters, into science and math majors.

"The article said majoring in one of those fields would be too 'herculean' for girls,'" Brickey said.

Brickey now serves as a faculty mentor to women students in STEM at Mines, and she said one distinction she wishes to highlight is to change how people think about engineers.

"Some of the best engineers are very creative people," said Brickey.

A native of Greeley, Colo., Sandin was in her high school art class when her teacher noticed the "geometric patterns" in her drawings. Her teacher encouraged her to pursue mechanical engineering, though she had more interest in aerospace engineering. But those programs were too expensive. One day, she received a pamphlet in the mail from the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology in Rapid City with heat-treated paper.

Carlson had sent it.

"I remember that brochure!" Carlson said, sitting next to her on the couch, laughing.

"You could put your finger on it, and it would change color," replied Sandin.

"Change the world as a woman in STEM," said Carlson, repeating the phrase on the pamphlet.

Now president of the campus's Moonrockers club, a student mentor, and headed toward a Ph.D. in bio-medical engineering at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Sandin said her start to college was "rocky." But she ended up loving Mines, in part, due to programming such as WISE and a National Science Foundation-funded scholarship program at Mines called Culture and Attitude, aimed to retain women and underrepresented STEM students.

"The first event, I kid you not, was on golf etiquette," Sandin said. Other trips included, "ice-fishing, fly-fishing and archery," or other activities she may encounter in a workplace dominated by men.

"They were introducing us to the culture of STEM," Sandin said, "which is to say the culture of men."

But this is the sticky-wicket of gender discussions. Not all men fly-fish. Not all women need comfy couches and a potted plant to study. But to reduce conversations to these physical objects misses the broader goals.

"Science is still very much a boy's club," Carlson said.

As case-in-point, she told a story about a female student who was in the machine shop with her all-male group. Many of her cohort had worked on saws with their grandfathers or grew up on farms. But this female student was unfamiliar with the CNC machine. So, not wanting to be embarrassed in front of the men and further call her out as an outsider, she didn't use the machine.

"So she went into the machine shop by herself over the summer," Carlson said, and with help from a nurturing professor, was able to gain confidence using the machine. "Next fall, she had progressed so well that he (the professor) told me she was the best machine-shopper in the entire class."

School officials say the best way to achieve better numbers of girls in the STEM pipeline is to show them other success stories of women in math, science and engineering.

Diversity also good the for workforce

When Carlson expanded her mentoring program to the student success center, she had what she called an "interesting problem." The mentors, who receive a stipend and must apply, are typically academically motivated students. And Carlson had a lot of women applicants. This meant women would not only mentor other women students but also men students. 

She remembers her initial reaction, thinking, "Oh I don't know, is this a good thing, is that going to be strange to have women mentoring a whole cohort of freshman male students, but then we decided not only only are women better mentors," she said, smiling, "I also really wanted to show freshmen men as they come into Mines that we value women in leadership positions on campus, and that it's a normal thing."

From her hiring in 2013 to her departure in 2017, Mine's first female president — Heather Wilson, now Secretary of the Air Force — was the most visible woman leader on campus. Both Carlson and Brickey said they've had administrative support in their efforts. "We have an administration who has traditionally been very, very supportive of diversity and inclusion and not tolerating discrimination," Carlson said. 

Not only do these efforts assist the individual student, they also are what industry demands. School officials said when Google and Microsoft and other major employers arrive on campus, they want diverse recruits and people accustomed to working in diverse teams. In an article published in the college's Hardrockers magazine, Dr. Rajesh Sani, of the department of chemical and biological engineering, says that in over a decade he has supervised researchers from all over the world and says, "(diversity) greatly contributes to research and education." He writes, "most importantly," his collaborations have resulted in more than $18 million in funded research. 

Brickey says this kind of instruction can be done by expanding the definition of engineers. "We often think that engineers are not creative," Brickey said, "But some of the best engineers are very creative people. They think of unique ways to solve problems. What I'm talking of here is thought diversity." 

"If you're building a bridge, you want to explore all different scenarios and schools of thought," Carlson said. "It's important not only to build up our women students to be confident leaders and team members but also to normalize that for our male students."

In the first graduating class ever at Mines, the percentage of women graduates was over 66 percent. The class of 1890 had two women, one man.

Now on the eve of her graduation, Sandin agrees with Carlson and thinks back to her earliest days at Mines, learning from and leaning on her fellow women students.

"They acted as a big sister, showed us around campus, helped us figure out our schedule, and took us to the iconic places of Rapid City, like Armadillo's Ice Cream or Pure Bean Coffee Shop. It was just fun having girls to hang around with." 

In her Ph.D. program, Sandin may work with a professor whose research has focused on the adhesive properties of bio-films on tooth implants and other prosthetics. There could be a lucrative career in industry for Sandin, too. But as some of her mentors expressed, if Sandin ever returns to Mines to teach, she'll be able to shake hands with many young men and women when they call off the names of mechanical engineering majors. 

Ryan Hermens, Journal staff 

Baccalaureate graduates move the tassels on their mortar boards Saturday to signify their graduation during South Dakota School of Mines & Technology's commencement ceremony at the Rushmore Civic Center Ice Arena. U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds delivered the commencement address and Gina Elmore, of Hot Springs, a civil engineering major, delivered the senior class message. Almost 400 students received their degrees at the ceremony.

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FBI offering reward in Pine Ridge murder investigation
Up to $2,500 available for information on killing, burning of 24-year-old Allen man

The FBI is offering up to $2,500 for information leading to an arrest in a murder on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in October.

The victim, 24-year-old Raymond Charles Waters Jr., was found dead inside a burnt mobile home in Allen on the morning of Oct. 16.

“Investigation revealed Waters had been deceased prior to the fire. The fire may have been an act of arson to conceal the crime,” according to an FBI poster released Thursday. It appealed to the public for help in “identifying the individual(s) responsible for the murder.”

The bureau is asking anyone with information on Waters’ death and the fire to call its Rapid City office at 343-9632.

In March, the victim’s uncle and owner of the burnt mobile home, Nathaniel “Thomas” Waters, was charged with being an accessory after the murder and lying to federal investigators. Thomas, 45, pleaded not guilty to the federal charges.

Court records in Thomas’ case show that an autopsy of Raymond found that the young man, better known as Ray, died before the fire. The examination found also that Ray had two horizontal skull fractures and neck lacerations, and that the injuries were likely caused by an ax.

Thomas’ indictment states that a juvenile has been charged with second-degree murder in Ray’s death. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, who is prosecuting the case, didn’t respond to whether they were seeking an additional suspect or suspects but said nobody has yet been charged with burning the mobile home.

Thomas is accused of helping the killer evade authorities and of telling an FBI agent he was at home sleeping when the fire happened around 6 a.m. Investigators reportedly discovered through Thomas’ cellphone location information that he had been at various locations in the hours leading up to the fire.

Being an accessory after a federal crime carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison; making a false statement, five years. Waters is detained at the Pennington County Jail, and is tentatively scheduled for trial in June.

There were three homicides on the Pine Ridge reservation in 2017, according to the FBI. One murder has been reported on the reservation so far this year.


Republican governor candidates debate at newspaper convention

SIOUX FALLS | The South Dakota Newspaper Association hosted a debate Saturday between candidates seeking the Republican nomination for governor.

U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem and state Attorney General Marty Jackley spent nearly an hour answering a dozen questions from four reporters and editors.

The June 5 primary winner faces Senate Democratic leader Billie Sutton in November.

Each hopes to succeed Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a Republican serving his second and final term.

Among points in opening statements, Noem said drugs and crime were rising, while Jackley said South Dakota was a “safe” state.

“Statistics show that,” Jackley said.

In her closing, Noem pledged state government under her administration would be accountable “like it never has before.”

Responded Jackley, “We’re not getting it from Washington. We need a strong voice.”

Neither pursued the issue of enforcing abortion restrictions that flared Friday between their campaign managers.

Questions instead focused on broader conditions within the state. The first asked the definition of a Republican in South Dakota.

Noem said smaller government and smaller roles in people’s lives. “It means you fight for life. It means you fight for our Second Amendment rights,” she said.

Jackley said limited government, protecting taxpayer dollars, balancing budgets and protecting freedoms, including protecting “unborn” and the Second Amendment, he said.

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms.

Another asked what to do about South Dakota’s sluggish revenue if the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t allow states to more broadly tax sales made over the internet.

Noem said it was “very difficult” to convince Congress to pass her legislation that would have allowed a state to tax sales by a business outside its border.

She said she supported South Dakota’s case in the nation’s high court.

“What we need to do is grow our economy,” she said, pointing to South Dakota recently showing the smallest growth of gross domestic product in the nation.

She said South Dakota needs “a refocus” to find the next big industry as former Gov. Bill Janklow did when he pursued financial services in the late 1970s and early ‘80s.

Jackley meanwhile recalled trying to talk to the nine justices when he presented the states’ side.

“I was standing there giving everyone in South Dakota a voice,” he said. “We just simply want an even playing field.”

He added, “I think we are going to win this. We have the right case.”

If South Dakota loses, he suggested following Colorado’s example: Passing a law requiring businesses report internet-based sales made to customers in the state.

Among other highlights:

Noem pledged no new taxes, no new regulations and no new boards or other panels.

“In South Dakota we have over 120 boards already,” she said. “You don’t have to form more government to listen to people.”

But Jackley said he’s used task forces in the past and plans more if elected.

“That’s not more government,” he said. “I know how to do it. And I’ll do it again.”

Jackley supported President Trump’s effort to secure the border between the United States and Mexico because “90 percent” of illegal drugs flow across.

“It’s an easy solution,” he said.

But Noem suggested law enforcement in South Dakota hadn’t kept up as times changed.

“The facts are in the last 10 years violent crimes have doubled in our state,” she said. Rapes “tripled,” she said.