HHS to Review Indian Health Service After Revelations on Pedophile Doctor

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February 13, 2019
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by Christopher Weaver The Wall Street Journal
Dan Frosch The Wall Street Journal

Alex Azar, secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), speaks during a roundtable in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. (Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar called for a review of the Indian Health Service following an investigation that revealed the agency’s mishandling of a pedophile doctor.

The investigation, by The Wall Street Journal and FRONTLINE, detailed the career of Stanley Patrick Weber, a pediatrician who in 2018 was convicted of sexually assaulting Native American boys. The IHS transferred him from one agency-run hospital to another after officials concluded he was molesting children in 1995, and he continued working for the federal agency for 21 years.

The news organizations’ documentary about the doctor, Predator on the Reservation, premiered Tuesday.

In a speech Wednesday to the National Congress of American Indians, Mr. Azar said “the quality of care at IHS facilities has not always met the standards we set, and that kind of outcome is totally unacceptable.” The Department of Health and Human Services oversees the Indian Health Service.

Mr. Azar said he had asked the agency’s watchdog arm, called the Office of Inspector General, to conduct a review. The review is to focus on the effectiveness of the policies the agency has implemented to handle abuse allegations, he said.

He said the agency had implemented several such policies including a centralized credentialing system to help detect problem doctors to “ensure that this kind of horrific event cannot occur again.”

In the case of Mr. Weber, information about the allegations against him at one IHS hospital were never recorded in his credentialing file at the second facility where he worked, according to people who had seen those records. As a result, some officials who subsequently investigated his conduct said they were unaware of prior allegations.

Read more: A Pedophile Doctor Drew Suspicions for 21 Years. No One Stopped Him.

The IHS has also expanded its policies to require anyone who works for the agency to report suspected sexual abuse to law enforcement. State laws already require health providers to report suspicions of abuse, or face potential criminal penalties.

A hospital CEO overseeing Mr. Weber told a reporter for the Journal and Frontline that he harbored suspicions about Mr. Weber but didn’t contact law enforcement because he feared he might be punished by his IHS supervisor.

In January, Mr. Weber was sentenced to more than 18 years in prison for his crimes. He is appealing the verdict.

The OIG “has received the request” for a review, according to a statement provided by spokesman Don White, “and we are reviewing it for appropriate action.”

The OIG, which includes both analysts and law enforcement officers, also conducted the criminal investigation into Mr. Weber that resulted in his 2017 and 2018 indictments in South Dakota and Montana, respectively. He was convicted in Montana of sexually assaulting two boys and faces another federal trial, this time in South Dakota, in September.

Mr. White, the OIG spokesman, said the agency can’t comment on ongoing investigations. He said in a statement that the investigative agency has been working to curb fraud and abuse within HHS programs that operate in Indian country in recent years “so that tribal members receive the full benefit” of the programs.

The Indian Health Service is also planning an independent review of its handling of the case of Mr. Weber stretching back to his first days at the agency in the mid-1980s, at a hospital in Ada, Okla., that the IHS ran at the time.

The agency is seeking an outside contractor to ensure the probe isn’t conducted by someone who is entangled in the Weber matter, said Rear Adm. Michael Weahkee, the acting head of the IHS. No contractor has yet been publicly identified.

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