Manager Accused of Squelching Abuse Report at U.S. Indian Health Service Center Quits

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August 1, 2019
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by Christopher Weaver The Wall Street Journal

The Unity Healing Center was opened in 1991 on land owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. (Charles Mostroller for The Wall Street Journal) (Charles Mostoller for The Wall Street Journal)

This story has been updated. 

A U.S. Indian Health Service manager who subordinates said gave an order not to report an allegation of child sexual abuse at an agency-run substance-abuse treatment center has resigned, employees said the facility’s CEO announced in a meeting Thursday.

The manager, Tracey Grant, had been on leave since June 14, according to an internal email reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. A week earlier, an investigation by the Journal detailed Ms. Grant’s decisions after an incident at the IHS’s Unity Healing Center in Cherokee, N.C.

In September 2016, suspicions arose about the relationship between a 16-year-old female patient and an IHS employee, a 47-year-old maintenance man, after video surveillance showed them entering a private bathroom, according to staff members and documents. Hours after the girl was questioned about her interactions with the man, she attempted to hang herself, records show.

Several workers said they suspected sexual misconduct by the maintenance man, but that Ms. Grant instructed them not to report it, despite legal requirements they do so. The girl’s counselor, former IHS therapist Tawna Harrison, said Ms. Grant “told me, ‘No, I will handle this. Do not contact anybody,’” the Journal reported in its June 7 article.

Ms. Grant confirmed in a brief conversation Thursday that she had resigned for “personal reasons.” She declined to comment further on the events at Unity.

She is also the subject of an investigation by the North Carolina Psychology Board for her role in the 2016 incident, records show.

The CEO of Unity didn’t respond immediately to requests for comment.

The IHS said Ms. Grant’s resignation was effective July 31.

“Sexual assault and abuse will not be tolerated at the Unity Healing Center or elsewhere in the IHS,” a spokesman said in a statement. He said the agency was seeking a contractor to do a review of sex-abuse reporting practices at Unity.

The IHS has been under scrutiny for its handling of child-sex abuse allegations against its staff members following a report by the Journal and FRONTLINE that detailed the agency’s mishandling of a pedophile pediatrician.

In that case, managers in Montana and South Dakota missed or ignored warning signs, tried to silence whistleblowers and allowed the doctor, Stanley Patrick Weber, to continue treating children despite the suspicions of colleagues up and down the chain of command.

Mr. Weber was convicted in Montana last year on charges of sexual abuse and is appealing the verdict. He faces another trial on related charges in South Dakota next month and has pleaded guilty to charges there.

After the Journal and FRONTLINE reported on that episode, the IHS overhauled its policies for handling sexual-abuse case at its facilities. It implemented nationwide training on how to handle such allegations last month.

Federal law already requires health-care workers, administrators and others to report suspicions of sexual abuse of children under 18 to law enforcement authorities. But, some agency employees have said in interviews they were instead directed to bring such concerns to managers.

As of June, the agency said it was tracking the response to six allegations of sexual abuse by its employees, excluding employment-related matters such as sexual-harassment claims.

The maintenance man involved in the 2016 incident, Nathaniel Crowe, didn’t respond to requests for comment Thursday. In a June Facebook post, he said he had been fully cleared and that allegations about him were “a total misconception.”

A federal investigation into the matter is ongoing, according to people familiar with the matter.

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