August 2nd, 2012
Public Health Service punishes psychologist who warned of child abuse
Are institutions, even small ones like the remote health clinic on an Indian reservation depicted in this story, ever going to learn to not cover-up child abuse? Remember Penn State. Think about the consequences for hiding another molester. In this case, two individuals, this time two women, deserve singling out: Arlene de la Paz and Candelaria Martin. Read on and be outraged.
Indians living on reservations suffer social and health problems endured by the larger American population, except that on every measure, their quality of life and well being among the worst in the country. In North Dakota, and specifically the Spirit Lake reservation, has been plagued by child abuse and neglect for over 15 months. A 9 y.o. girl and her 6 y.o. brother were sexually assaulted, murdered and left under a mattress. In July a 2 month old girl died after warnings about her child abuse. The state was aware of problems and stopped paying for foster care.
Clinical Psychologist Michael Tilus, PsyD, directed behavioral health in the Spirit Lake Health Center on the reservation. He saw conditions that led him to believe child abuse was rampant. For several of his 10 years there, he reported his concerns to direct supervisors and was ignored. He feared children would commit suicide without intervention. He finally wrote in April to state and federal officials outside the Center, claiming Federal whistleblower status. He was interviewed for the July 7 New York Times article about child welfare dangers at Spirit Lake.
Tilus’ bosses at the Center are CEO Arlene M. de la Paz and Dr. Candelaria Martin, Director of Medical Staff. Everyone works for the Indian Health Service (IHS), which is part of the Public Health Service (PHS), all under the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). In exasperation, Tilus wrote to DHHS and IHS higher ups.
In a stunning June 25, 2012 reprimand letter to Tilus from Martin, signed by de la Paz for some reason, he was accused of “misconduct, insubordination and general demeanor not becoming of an officer.” Martin and de la Paz railed in 3 pages about “going outside of your direct chain of command” by writing letters about the threats to the children’s safety on the reservation. These two women bosses make the ludicrous argument that Tilus is the one responsible for creating “a negative environment” in which bosses cannot trust Tilus. They then suggest that he is unable to provide patient care — the most damning accusation to a competent clinician.
The reprimand was signed July 13 — after the July 7 national press attention drawn to the tiny Health Center.
The punishment for Tilus is reassignment, a ban on promotions for two years and hints that his professional license to practice psychology is in jeopardy. Dr. Tilus’ 6 page rebuttal to the reprimand gives the history of reporting to an indifferent and unknowing set of bosses.
But Martin and de la Paz are impervious to explanations. Remember, they ignored his pleas to help the children for months. They only sprang into action after some negative press. And the action was to punish the bearer of the message, Tilus.
Bullied individuals know this scenario well. It is nearly 100% predictable.
But this message was about child abuse allegations, an “epidemic” according to Tilus. They continue to ignore the problem instead launching a campaign of character assassination to retaliate for being outed as incompetent government health service managers.
Martin and de la Paz should immediately be fired. Administrators at a big-time university were fired for similar offenses. Certainly IHS can see a way to purge these two who persecute Tilus.
The July 30 New York Times report of his punishment suggests that Tilus might file an EEOC claim against the IHS and the two women. Good luck with that unless he is a man who enjoys several categories of protected class that his women bosses do not also enjoy.
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