Some massage therapists unleash anger over rules proposed by absent South Dakota board

Capitol News Bureau
KELO Pierre Capital Generic

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The five people on the South Dakota Massage Therapy Board would have heard harsh criticism of their practices and their proposed rule changes, if they had taken part in a teleconference public hearing Thursday evening.

In their absence, Mitch Richter, who serves as the board’s executive secretary, was the only person to speak in favor, while six state-licensed massage therapists and a representative from a national association strongly opposed various parts of the changes.

The board’s attorney, Mitch Williams, from the state Department of Health, told them he would prepare minutes for the board members to read but wouldn’t provide a verbatim transcript.

Neither Richter nor Williams made clear when the board would decide on the changes. A board teleconference meeting is scheduled for Monday, August 17, at 9 a.m. CT, and an update about the rules hearing is on the agenda.

The Legislature established the board and set licensing requirements for massage therapists in 2005. The bill’s prime sponsor was then-Representative Joni Cutler, a Sioux Falls Republican. She now is state Circuit Judge Joni Clark.

Emotions ran raw through much of the hour-long hearing Thursday. Those speaking against the rules were Rebecca Herrmann, Pam Boyden, Christine Hoober, Rhanda Heller, Bridget Myers, Heather Herrick and Olawa Rae-Bruhjell.

Comments from Myers and Heller turned personal at times against Richter and board president Christine Ellwein of Pierre. Myers accused the board of not communicating. Heller, who had buried her husband less than a week ago, described Ellwein’s leadership as “inept” and called on each board member by name to “stand up.”

“That’s enough,” attorney Williams told Heller.

“Move on. I am so done,” Heller replied.

Myers said the 5 p.m. CT start of the hearing was “disrespectful” because the 5-8 p.m. period is when massage therapists generally were busiest. She noted the board’s previous meeting began at 7:30 p.m.

Most spoke against raising fees during a pandemic. Questions also were raised about how a proposed rule would be enforced requiring licensees to update the board’s office when their personal information changes.

Several from massage schools asked why the board now had to approve every continuing-education course that they offer.

Heller came back for a second shot. She accused Ellwein of running the board into “the red” — a deficit — and asked Williams to put her next comment in the minutes: “What this is,” Heller said, “is insane.”

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