Dr. Yvette Roubideaux, U.S. Director of Indian Health Services (AP Images)

Director Says Indian Health Service Supports Whistleblowers

Rob Capriccioso

WASHINGTON – The director of the Indian Health Service (IHS) says the agency is supportive of employees who communicate with members of the U.S. Congress on problems involving the agency.

The encouragement of whistleblowers was made in a letter issued by IHS Director Yvette Roubideaux on August 2. The letter was addressed to Michael Tilus, a psychiatrist with the agency, who was reprimanded by his director, Candelaria Martin, in June for releasing information to Congress and agency officials outside of his direct command that highlighted “grave concern” for endangered Indian children on the Spirit Lake Nation reservation in North Dakota. A letter written by Tilus on April 3 highlighted tribal failures in protecting children there from abuse and neglect.

Congress members and agency employees have expressed widespread concern that Tilus was punished for trying to protect Indian children.

The IHS director says she is on Tilus’ side.

“I want to ensure you that IHS is committed to protecting employees who communicate with Congress regarding concerns on matter of public health and safety,” Roubideaux wrote. In the same letter, she voided the earlier letter of reprimand by Martin, removed the letter from Tilus’ file, restored his access to the IHS IT system, and restored a job offer Tilus had previously received from the IHS office in Billings, Montana.

Roubideaux said she was writing to “remedy” the issues, and she determined that they should be “reversed.”

Tilus had first raised his concerns within the agency about Spirit Lake children, and upon lack of action and his own concern for the Native children involved, sent his concerns to members of Congress. His concerns centered on the killing of two siblings last year, while another death on the reservation—that of 2-month-old Debra Kay Anderson Dogskin—received increased scrutiny in July. Her death came after repeated reports of suspected child abuse, according to the Associated Press, yet she remained in her home.

Congress members have hailed Roubideaux’ decision to remove the reprimand.

“Employees should be free and comfortable in raising concerns with federal officials,” Ryan Bernstein, deputy chief of staff and legal counsel for Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D, said in a statement.

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hpruden's picture
Submitted by hpruden on
Wow! This great news - and I love the fact the I. Roubideaux to approach this from a traditional Native perspective - where the community's well-being is placed before the bureaucracy and its hierarchy. I love the fact I. Roubideaux has leveled the playing field where everyone is equal to voice their concerns just like if this was a talking circle! Is this now an IHS policy?

tmsyr11's picture
Submitted by tmsyr11 on
There is a 'chain of command' in place with many federal agencies. If this is the wishes of the IHS Director as policy, i.e. "official" because it is reported in the news, then what is the need for the IHS Public Information Officer OR an IHS Regional Officer? It sounds more like this federal bureaucrat gave in to political pressure to save her creditiblity as a federal official. I won't be surprised if this announcement confuses many IHS workers even more on what can be given out. For iHS workers be expecting a follow-up memo from their regional offices 'clarifying' the announcement by IHS Rockville. Fortunately for the psychitrist, he had friends to intervene.

bertkaulaity's picture
Submitted by bertkaulaity on
We hope that the legal councilor for the senate can put a bright light on this destruction of our most innocent!

dakotacitizen's picture
Submitted by dakotacitizen on
Roubideaux did the right thing. I wonder if the tribal member that's the BIA Superintendant, (I think his name is Cavanaugh) there as well as de la Paz shouldn't be fired. Let the tribe that's trying to keep this quiet and allowing the children to be viciousely abused be responsible for supporting those two. Everyone's saying employees should be free to raise concerns but no one is addressing the horror that our youngest victims are going through because an entire tribe, an entire region, is looking the other way. The way this has been handled is text book bullying tactics. Instead of getting rid of the whistleblower and forgetting about this, lets look into the horror going on. Has the BIA as they have been asked by ND Congressional representatives, sent adequate help to their social services agency? Has the BIA seen to it that the employees that have not done their job or done it poorly or in an illegal manner, been fired? My guess is if they're members there the answer is no. We need to make those in charge take responsibility and assist to get the child welfare system working for the purpose they are in place. To take care of victimized children.

sierra's picture
Submitted by sierra on
With Flyinghawk's comment, one is left to wonder whether it was indeed a saving face or public relations' ploy instead of her being more firm in her decree. No errors can be countered until the appropriate info (and not info overload) is brought to light; and WHICH sources those are - is another issue. Still, as Flyhawk mentioned - her actions came AFTER Obama signed into law whistle-blower safeguards for certain Public Officers the month before. Shows what kind of society we live in. In either case, Roubideaux’ decision did reflect that of a less bureaucracy, less hierarchy that needs to be more widely practiced especially in social service organizations.