WhistleWatch.org is breaking with a report that the Indian Health Service has stopped its retaliation campaign against a whistleblower who disclosed allegations of child abuse and lack of proper intervention in the Spirit Lake Indian reservation, in North Dakota. Dr. Michael Tilus, director of behavioral health at the Spirit Lake Health Center, “wrote in an e-mail to state and federal health officials this spring about an ‘epidemic’ of child abuse on Spirit Lake,” according to a July 30 New York Times article.
IHS responded by issuing a letter of reprimand on June 25, rescinding a scheduled promotion, and transferring him to the agency’s regional headquarters in South Dakota, the Times wrote.
The reprimand letter stated that “Dr. Tilus’s dissemination of the e-mail to health and law enforcement officers outside his chain of command constituted ‘engaging in action and behavior of a dishonorable nature.’” The letter was written by Dr. Candelaria Martin, the department’s clinical director of medical staff at Spirit Lake, the Times reported.
According to the article, “Dr. Martin wrote that Dr. Tilus had brought discredit to the federal government’s public health services and had damaged relationships with the tribe, the Indian Health Services and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.”
Dr. Martin is currently on leave until Aug. 13 and could not be reached for comment.
The Bismarck Tribune reported July 28 about congressional intervention by North Dakota Senators John Hoeven (R) and Kent Conrad (D) from earlier in July. The Grand Forks Herald also weighed in July 30 with an editorial demanding answers from IHS.
The media coverage was likely a factor in IHS’ about-face. According to an Aug. 2 letter obtained by WhistleWatch, IHS will rescind the reprimand letter and remove it from Dr. Tilus’ file, restore IT access, and restore a job offer previously made for the position of Supervisory Clinical Psychologist at the Indian Health Center in Harlem, Montana. The letter was authored by IHS director Yvette Roubideaux.