Today in New West news: criminal investigation opened over Gold King spill, Carnegie Mellon expands tech lab to Utah, and house calls in the Treasure Valley.
Over the past few months, we’ve been reporting on developments in the Gold King Mine spill case. As a refresher: last August, nearly a year ago, workers for the Environmental Protection Agency accidentally spilled 3 million gallons of toxic material into the Animas River. Besides the obvious danger of contamination to drinking water supplies, the spill has become the rallying point for legislators dissatisfied with the EPA’s administration, with several U.S. Reps and Senators from the Animas’ watershed leading the charge.
Now, according to the Denver Post, a criminal probe is underway—and involves the U.S. Attorney’s Office, at the request of members of Congress:
The announcement Monday came from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) as it released letters sent to lawmakers about the status of its work to analyze the disaster. Documents reviewed by The Denver Post on Monday indicate the probe has been in progress for nearly a year.
Jeffrey Lagda, spokesman for the inspector general’s office, said the OIG is working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office on the criminal investigation. It was “based on requests from several members of the House and Senate,” he added.
“I cannot comment further,” Lagda said.
Officials declined to say Monday specifically when the investigation began, but an Aug. 17, 2015, memo from the inspector general’s office — the EPA’s internal monitor — to top-ranking EPA officials makes mention of the beginnings of the criminal probe.
“We will request documents, and interview relevant managers and staff in (the region and at national headquarters) and elsewhere as necessary,” the memo said, outlining that the OIG’s office of investigations would be working on the review. The investigations division handles criminal investigations for the OIG, including of employee misconduct.
Word of the criminal investigation remained out of the public view, however, and Republican members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs have been pushing hard for a criminal review of the EPA-caused Aug. 5, 2015, spill near Silverton.
In May, the committees’ chair, U.S. Senators John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and John McCain, R-Ariz., sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch formally requesting a criminal review of the EPA’s role in the disaster. On Monday, both applauded news of the probe.
Over in Utah, according to Utah Business, Carnegie Mellon University announced its CREATE (Community, Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment) Lab would be partnering with the Utah STEM Action Center in Salt Lake City to “provide hands-on technology learning experiences for Utah students.” Begun in 2011, the CREATE Lab partners with education schools to help teachers better educate their students on technology and innovation potential. From Utah Business:
“The partnership with CREATE Lab allows students to learn programming, data analytics and robotics in the context of cultural, environmental and social issues,” said Dr. Tamara Goetz, executive director of the Utah STEM AC. “These projects align with our mission to support the growing need for opportunities to learn computing, and is thrilling for Utah teachers and students.”
With support from a $250,000 grant from the Infosys Foundation USA, the CREATE Lab is expanding beyond the Western Pennsylvania/West Virginia region to include satellite labs in Utah and Georgia.
Thanks to STEM AC’s strong network of educators and administrators, along with government and business leaders, the center is positioned to support and coordinate engagement in more than one location. STEM AC will establish two local CREATE Lab satellites at Southern Utah University and Utah Valley University to train local schools and teachers in the CREATE education model.
“The Carnegie Mellon CREATE Lab is a wonderful combination of innovative, hands-on technology programs and local community action,” said Vandana Sikka, chairperson of the Infosys Foundation USA. “By combining these powerful forces we can empower the next generation of students with the creative confidence to be successful.”
Finally, up in Idaho, one Treasure Valley nurse practitioner is looking to bring back house calls. According to the Idaho Statesman, Bradley Bigford, who works full time for the Ada County Sherriff’s Office in the jail, started Table Rock Mobile Medicine after joking about starting an in-home “ear-cleaning business.” To his surprise, people were eager to have a practitioner who can see them at home—like doctors of yore, with their medical bag in tow. From the Statesman:
Bigford called the Idaho Board of Nursing and talked with lawyers. There seemed to be no barriers to an independent practitioner seeing patients in their homes. He found insurance billing codes specific to in-home visits.
Table Rock Mobile Medicine is not the only business that has offered to see Treasure Valley patients in their homes. Among them are a small but growing number of local doctors who have opened “concierge” businesses, offering a nearly unlimited amount of primary care for a monthly fee, in some cases including house calls.
However, as far as Bigford knows, he is the only provider who does house calls at no extra charge and takes health insurance. Table Rock currently takes Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans, Medicaid, PacifiCare and plans that include the Idaho Physicians Network. It will begin taking TriCare Oct. 1.
A business called House Calls LLC was co-founded in 2012 by critical-care physician Steven Fuller and Boise State University professor and public health physician Uwe Reischl.
The business brought doctors to assisted living and retirement communities, specializing in the care of seniors.
Fuller closed the business in May, coincidentally at the same time Table Rock Mobile Medicine was starting. Fuller said he is moving to Pennsylvania this summer to become chief medical officer for a large nonprofit senior housing corporation.
Bigford says the practice works since, as a trained nurse, he can handle a variety of tasks that don’t require a hospital visit—ear infections, urinary tract infections, respiratory distress, etc. Bigford added that, from his viewpoint, people should still go to hospitals for more serious medical emergencies and procedures—such as getting a CT scan or delivering a baby.