Government , Health

White House launches task force to prevent child abuse at IHS facilities

With a criminal case against a former longtime pediatrician still pending, the White House has announced a new effort to address child sexual abuse within Indian Health Services.

On March 26, the White House launched a task force specifically charged with developing any necessary additional policies to prevent IHS’ pediatric patients from being abused by the agency’s employees.

The task force’s formation comes on the heels of the conviction of Stanley Weber. A pediatrician, Weber was shuffled from hospital to hospital across multiple states by IHS officials over the course of 21 years, despite abuse claims from patients dating back to the mid-1990s.

Weber started his IHS career at what is now the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center in Ada, Oklahoma, before moving on to stints in New Mexico, the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana and Pine Ridge, South Dakota.

In 2018, Weber was convicted of sexually assaulting two Montana boys while working on the Blackfeet Reservation from 1992 to 1995. He was sentenced in January to 18 years in federal prison and is appealing that conviction. He still faces similar charges in South Dakota from his 13 years at Pine Ridge.

The cases in Montana and South Dakota were the subject of a joint investigation by PBS’ “Frontline” and the Wall Street Journal that aired in February.

The task force will not interfere with any criminal cases pending against him. It also will not interfere with ongoing probes into IHS by both the Department of Health and Human Services and an independent third-party contractor.

Trent Shores, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation and the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma, will co-chair the task force. The district’s tribal liaison, Shannon Bears Cozzoni, is also among the seven people tapped to participate.

Other members of the task force include domestic policy advisor Joseph Grogan, Bo Leach with the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Office of Justice Services, FBI forensic interviewer Stephanie Knapp, Dr. Caitlin Hall with IHS and Farnoosh Faezi-Marian, a program examiner with the Office of Management and Budget.

“Protecting Native American children who enter the Indian Health Service system is a common sense mission,” Shores said in a statement released by the Department of Justice. “It’s also one which this task force will approach with a great sense of purpose and urgency.”