Grassley Demands Answers, Accountability from Indian Health Service Following Reports of Sexual Abuse, Whistleblower Retaliation

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Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) today demanded answers from the Indian Health Service (IHS) following the release of an internal report detailing the agency’s failure to do anything about repeated and well-founded allegations that a pediatrician was sexually abusing young patients. The report also indicated that the whistleblowers who reported the violations were retaliated against while the abusive doctor was promoted. In his letter to IHS Acting Director Elizabeth Fowler, Grassley requested information regarding the agency’s plan to ensure abuse like this does not happen in the future.


“The IHS provides health care to millions of Native Americans. These patients deserve access to safe healthcare without fear of assault. Further, the IHS employs over 15,000 nurses, physicians, and other caregivers. It is imperative that these men and women feel empowered to blow the whistle on any and all abuse and misconduct – without fear of retribution,” Grassley wrote.


“Today, I call on you to ensure this egregious miscarriage of justice does not occur in the future. It is imperative that the IHS prevents caregivers from using their power to abuse and harm our children.”


Full text of the letter can be found HERE.


Grassley’s speech on the Senate floor can be found below.


During my time in the Senate, I have always upheld the work of whistleblowers.  


Those who speak up about government wrongdoing should be rewarded, not sidelined and punished.  


But that is exactly what happened in the Indian Health Service according to a recently released internal report.  


In August 2006, Dr. Mark Butterbrodt wrote to his superiors about a fellow doctor.  


Over the course of years, he made extremely serious whistleblower complaints alleging that his colleague, Dr. Stanley Weber, was sexually assaulting his young patients.  


He was not alone. Other medical staff tried to report Weber to those at the top.  


Weber’s behavior was described as an “open secret.”  


It is even alleged that the standard orientation for new nurses included a warning to never leave Weber alone with young boys.  


The response from IHS senior staff was silence.  


Over a decade after the first whistleblower report, Weber continued to sexually assault young boys who came to IHS for care.  


Instead of removing a man who had been repeatedly, credibly accused of sexually abusing his patients, they punished the whistleblowers.  


Numerous senior officials broke the law by failing to report allegations to law enforcement.  


Instead, they promoted Weber to manage those who witnessed his crimes.  


By contrast, the report states that Dr. Butterbrodt was “banished” to the “very remote and rural facility” in Belcourt, North Dakota.  


He resigned shortly thereafter.  


This shameful response by IHS leadership had a direct impact on future potential whistleblowers.  


The report states that “nurses told Dr. Butterbrodt that now he could see why they never speak up.” 


It is unconscionable that these whistleblowers were ignored and a pedophile was allowed to act with impunity.  


That is why I recently sent a letter to the Acting Director of IHS to ensure that future patients and whistleblowers do not face the same treatment.  


I want to make sure that processes have been put in place so that this doesn’t happen again. 


Dr. Butterbrodt and those like him were right to blow the whistle.  


We need to make it easier, not harder, to do the right thing.