Stanley Patrick Weber, a former Indian Health Service (IHS) pediatrician, was convicted September 27 on 8 counts of sexual abuse of 4 Native American boys under his care at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Oglala Lakota County, South Dakota.
Weber was an employee of the IHS from 1986 until he resigned in 2016. During that time, although suspicions were rampant that he was abusing young patients, he was moved from one reservation to another. An investigation by The Wall Street Journal and PBS/Frontline found officials in the IHS chain of command “ignored warning signs” and tried to silence whistleblowers.
Weber also was convicted last year and served time for abusing 2 boys at another government hospital in Montana before he arrived at Pine Ridge.
The Pine Ridge Reservation is home to some of the poorest communities in the US, with a dropout rate of > 70%, and a teen suicide rate 150% higher than America’s as a whole. Many of the youths testifying in the case described difficult childhoods, according to the Frontline program. In addition to assaulting them during health care visits, Weber lured them to his home with offers of alcohol and cash.
A White House task force was created to address the agency’s failures. In a statement, Rear Adm Michael Weahkee, IHS principal deputy director, said the IHS is “doing all we can throughout our agency to strengthen our protection for patients.” Steps taken include reinforcing with staff the prohibitions against inappropriate contact with children, reminding staff of the protections for whistleblowers, and hiring Integritas Creative Solutions to conduct a medical quality assurance review to examine whether laws, policies and procedures have been followed with regard to protecting patients from sexual abuse. The review complements work done by the Presidential Task Force on Protecting Native American Children in the Indian Health Service System and a separate review by the HHS Office of the Inspector General.
The IHS also is providing professional counseling for victims. Services do not have to be at an IHS facility or with an IHS provider. A confidential hot line has been established at 301-443-0658.
Weahkee calls the verdict “a long-awaited victory.” But, he adds, “we know that it will not completely heal the wounds inflicted on Dr. Weber’s victims.”