The head of the Indian Health Service met Wednesday with the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council in Pine Ridge to discuss steps the agency is taking to prevent future patient abuse in the wake of a former doctor being convicted of child sexual abuse years after tribal members reported him to the IHS.
"I expressed my sincere regret that children were victimized by those entrusted to care for them and have made it absolutely clear that sexual assault and abuse will not be tolerated in the Indian Health Service," Michael Weahkee, IHS principal deputy director, said in a news release.
The doctor, Stanley Patrick Weber, was sentenced to more than 18 years in federal prison after a jury found him guilty last fall of sexually abusing boys in his care on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in northwest Montana in the 1990s. Weber now awaits a September trial at the Rapid City federal courthouse to face accusations that he committed similar sex crimes against Native American boys on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
"These two communities were impacted by the actions of a former IHS employee," Weahkee said.
The meeting in Pine Ridge was closed to the public and Weahkee is not giving interviews, an IHS spokesman said when asked if the Journal could attend the meeting or speak with him.
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Wednesday's meeting — also attended by Kevin Meeks, IHS deputy director of field operations, and James Driving Hawk, acting Great Plains area director — follows a similar meeting Weahkee had last month with leaders of the Blackfeet Nation.
"I want to thank the leadership of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Blackfeet Nation for their partnership as we work to re-establish trust with our patients," Weahkee said.
Weahkee said IHS has created new professional standards and stronger requirements for IHS employees to report suspected sexual abuse. The agency has also created a centralized system that maintains records on the qualifications and practice history of employees.
There are also three current or planned investigations into the IHS, Weahkee said.
The White House announced Tuesday that it created a task force to investigate how Weber was able to sexually assault children in his care and how to prevent future abuse, while the Department of Health and Human Services is reviewing the effectiveness of the actions IHS has already taken. Finally, the IHS is hiring an independent contractor to review whether laws and policies were followed in the past, and what future improvements it can make.