Angel Ellis/ Reporter
New task force aims to protect Native American children
TULSA, Oklahoma—Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief James Floyd met with members of the Presidential Task Force on Protecting Native American Children in Indian Health Service System on April 4.
Principal Chief Floyd met with the group imparting his experience with 28 years of Federal service that includes the management of Veterans Affairs facilities in Oklahoma, Missouri, and Utah. The Task Force also heard from Dr. Mark Butterbrodt, a former pediatrician at Pine Ridge reservation, and Inspector Curt Muller, Office of the Inspector General for Health and Human Services (HHS).
The task force was formed as an actionable response to a case in which a doctor working for Indian Health Services was convicted after years of sexually abusing children.
According to a letter from IHS to tribal leaders published in October of 2018, former IHS pediatric physician Dr. Stanley Patrick Weber was convicted by a grand jury in Montana and indicted in South Dakota. The letter said Weber had served as a physician in various IHS facilities including Oklahoma City, over the course of 18 years.
On March 26, the U.S. Attorneys’ office published a press release outlining the formation of the task force.
‘President Donald J. Trump appointed Trent Shores, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma, as a co-chair of a Presidential Task Force formed to address the institutional and systemic breakdown that failed to prevent a predatory pediatrician from sexually assaulting Native American children for years while employed by the Indian Health Service,’ the release said.
Shores will be working with Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy Joseph Grogan as they head up a group of diverse professional backgrounds to develop recommended policies, protocols, and best practices to protect Native American children.
The task force is comprised of professionals who work in law enforcement, victim advocacy, medical and financial environments.
“Everyone perceives a situation through the prism of their own experience,” Shores said. “In this case having a diverse lens through which everyone looks at a situation helps to bring us to a holistic solution.”
Also serving on the task force will be Office of Management and Budget Program Examiner Farnoosh Faezi-Marian, Clinical Director and Pediatrician at Dzilth-na-o-dith-hle Health Center Caitlin A. Hall, Tribal Liaison and Assistant United States Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma Shannon Bears Cozzoni, Child and Adolescent Forensic Interviewer for the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Office for Victims Assistance Stephanie Knapp and Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Office of Justice Services Bo Leach.
Shores said he felt like the diversity on the task force generating holistic solutions would be much more sustainable than other approaches.
He said the task force is meant to be goal driven and produce results.
“When the President created this, he was clear that our task force was to be mission-oriented,” Shores said. “We are to provide both solutions in the short term and the long term.”
Shores said anytime a problem arises from institutional failures that are systematic and pervasive, change is difficult and can come with challenges. He felt the task force’s first meeting is already yielding results.
“The short term solutions might be readily achievable, and the long term solution may be cultural or systematic fixes to change the paradigm,” Shores said. “Its a challenge but I don’t think it’s something that we can’t do.”
He believes one of the first steps to look at is in recruiting the best people to serve Indian Country.
“One of the short term questions to resolve is how to recruit and retain skilled, and quality health care professionals like doctors, nurses, physicians assistants, hospital administrators to Indian Country,” Shores said. “Another short term fix might be focused on the training and continuing education requirements as it pertains to the federal mandatory reporting laws.
Shores said the ultimate goal seeks to produce safety and equality in health care.
“The long term goal is to ensure that this type of abuse cannot and will not happen again,” Shores said. “The larger issue is ensuring that there is not a second class health system in America for Native Americans.”
The task force also discussed existing relationships among healthcare providers with Federal, State, local, and tribal authorities, and additional social, community, and cultural topics of relevance.
According to a press release issued by the Office of the Press Secretary, ‘ The task force focused on “lessons learned” from other medical institutions, tribal histories, and Federal, State, local, and individual experiences.’
The task force will convene again for meetings, including in South Dakota and Montana.