Review shows IHS working on strengthening policies on sexual abuse reports

KELOLAND.com Original
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — According to a federal oversight agency, Indian Health Services has policies to address sexual abuse by health care providers, now it just needs to make sure to use them. And not all IHS facilities have implemented the policies.

A December 2019 report from the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services outlines a review of IHS policies and related topics on sexual abuse of patients by health care providers.

The OIG’s review was in response to reports of sexual abuse by health care providers but in particular to former IHS doctor Stanley Patrick Weber who was found guilty on Sept. 27, 2019, of sexually abusing minors at Pine Ridge Hospital in South Dakota. Weber worked at Pine Ridge from 1995 until he resigned in 2016. A year earlier, Weber was convicted of sexually abusing patients when he worked at the Blackfeet Community Hospital in Montana from 1992 to 1995.

The OIG report said of Weber “This case was particularly troubling given that hospital staff raised suspicions, on multiple occasions, Weber was abusing children, yet he continued to work as a pediatrician at IHS hospitals until his resignation, which allowed him to treat and victimize children for more than two decades” and cited a joint story by FRONTLINE PBS and the Wall Street Journal from February of 2019.

Weber was indicted in 2017 and convicted in 2018 and 2019. As a result of the Weber and other patient abuse cases, IHS initiated several efforts in 2017 to further address and prevent patient abuse in its facilities, according to the OIG report.

The OIG review said IHS officials identified some obstacles to staff and patients reporting abuse. IHS said fear of retaliation was one fear of staff and others who may want to report patient abuse. According to the OIG review, IHS officials said that in small communities it can be difficult to ensure the anonymity of staff that report patient abuse.

The OIG also said that IHS officials pointed at that confusion about jurisdictional boundaries may delay when reports are given to the appropriate authorities.

Sensitivities and stigma around sexual abuse in some tribal communities may also make it difficult to report abuse, according to the OIG review.

The OIG review noted that while strengthened policies had been adopted since 2017, there were still shortcomings. Several IHS officials said there were no clear distinctions as to who should have the lead when patient abuse is reported. Also, a system used to record patient abuse allegations, such as hotline, is outdated and was not operated by trained health care professions, IHS officials said in the OIG report.

The OIG made several recommendations for IHS in its review report. Recommendations include extending an incident policy to include more types of perpetrators, victims and abuse and to ensure that a new incident reporting system addresses any risks in the system.

One of the specific IHS policies related to sexual abuse of a patient by a health care provider is in Chapter 20 Part 3 called “Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse by Health Care Providers.”

The policy outlines the roles various health care officials have when child sexual abuse by a health care provider is reported. The policy also includes protections for staff who report alleged child sexual abuse by a health care provider.

After Weber was sentenced today, the IHS released an official statement here’s part of that statement: “The Indian Health Service is committed to ensuring a culture of quality, leadership and accountability. We prioritize a workforce that is dedicated and trustworthy. Protecting our patients is a key element of delivering quality care. The IHS is committed to protecting our patients and preventing their harm to the best of our ability.”

KELOLAND’s Angela Kennecke has been looking into how a colleague warned Indian Health Service about Dr. Stanley Weber for years and what it finally took for him to be charged with his crimes. 

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