Indian health service ‘willfully ignored’ sexual abuse by doctor, report says

WASHINGTON – Independent report commissioned by the Indian Health Service found federal agency officials silenced and punished whistleblowers in a bid to protect a doctor who sexually abused boys on several Native American reservations for decades .

At the same time, the report, written early last year but kept confidential until now, found that members of the IHS leadership “have deliberately ignored or actively suppressed all efforts to combat them- even against dangers “.

The 161-page report from Integritas Creative Solutions, a consulting firm, was obtained in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought against the IHS by the New York Times and later joined by the Wall Street Journal. He concludes that IHS leaders have done everything possible to ignore the allegations against Stanley Patrick Weber, the former doctor, because responding to them would be “awkward, arduous, inconvenient, messy and embarrassing.”

The report’s release comes after a federal appeals court ruled last week that the IHS should release the independent assessment of how Mr Weber, who worked as a pediatrician for the agency, tackled sexually to Native American boys for decades. The ruling upheld a lower court ruling in the Times lawsuit to make the report public.

Mr. Weber is currently serving multiple life sentences after federal investigations in South Dakota and Montana. He was convicted in September 2019 of committing sex crimes against boys as young as 9 between 1994 and 2011 at his home in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, and in 2018 Mr. Weber was convicted of abusing young boys in Montana.

The report recommends that IHS establish whistleblower protection coordinators in its 12 regional offices and possibly in its 170 local administrative offices. He also calls on the agency to expand its abuse policies to reach out to victims of all ages, not just children, and to create an internal system that would track allegations of wrongdoing as well as all information learned during the trials. abuse investigations.

Jennifer Buschick, a spokesperson for IHS, said in a statement that the report shows that past policies and procedures to deal with allegations of sexual abuse made by patients have led to decades of failures.

“The IHS recognizes that the trauma suffered by victims of sexual abuse within our agency is unacceptable,” the statement said. “These actions are reprehensible and we sincerely regret the damage caused to those involved. We will do all we can to improve and maintain the culture of care across IHS.

Ms Buschick said the agency has started making changes. This includes establishing a 24-hour hotline to report child or sexual abuse, training all IHS employees and contractors on how to handle reports of suspected child or sexual abuse, and more stringent patient safety protocols.

Based in Rockville, Maryland, the IHS was established to fulfill the government’s obligation to provide health care services to eligible Native Americans and Alaska Natives. The tribes agreed to exchange land and natural resources for health care and other federal government services. But the agency has long suffered from underfunding and a shortage of supplies, a shortage of doctors and nurses, too few hospital beds, aging facilities and mismanagement. .

The dazzling report included criticism that serious allegations were poorly documented and poorly kept records by IHS officials. The report also found that there had never been any credible attempts by IHS officials to investigate complaints filed by whistleblowers.

The report states that management of IHS’s facilities in Browning and Billings, Mont., And Pine Ridge and Aberdeen, SD, had access to a great deal of evidence, “some was presented to them and some discoverable with the quantity the more modest sincere investigation “, to justify the dismissal of Mr. Weber.

“In a very real sense, every victim of Weber’s abuse in Pine Ridge has also been a victim of IHS management failures,” the report said.

The Blackfeet Nation of Montana was one of the tribal communities affected by Mr. Weber’s abuse. President Timothy Davis said in light of the report, the community demands an apology from the IHS and more accountability for those who covered up the abuse.

“Allowing this pediatrician to do this to our children for all these years is unforgivable and excruciating,” said Davis. “This guy has been allowed to crack down on our children for all these years, and that has been covered by the administration of the Indian health service. They must be held responsible for their serious misconduct. “

The agency was awarded a contract for $ 618,000 to Integritas Creative Solutions in May 2019 to investigate its handling of sexual abuse complaints against Mr. Weber. He did it after a Wall Street Journal item detailed Mr. Weber’s crimes and the agency’s failure to stop them.

The IHS, which has 15,170 employees, most of whom work in its hospitals and clinics, has lacked consistent leadership since the Obama administration. Rear Admiral Michael D. Weahkee, a member of the Zuni Tribe, served ad interim from 2017 until confirmed by the Senate in April 2020.

He resigned early in the Biden administration. Elizabeth A. Fowler, a member of the Comanche nation who descends from the eastern Cherokee Indian band, is now the agency’s acting director.

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