Embattled former UW child abuse pediatrician resigns Alaska position
Parents and caregivers say their lives were upended after Dr. Barbara Knox wrongly diagnosed children’s illnesses or accidental injuries as abuse
By Michelle Theriault Boots
Anchorage Daily News
The embattled head of Alaska’s statewide child abuse forensic clinic — who also left the University of Wisconsin under a cloud of controversy — will soon resign, Providence Alaska Medical Center said.
Alaska CARES medical director’s Dr. Barbara Knox “has chosen to pursue other opportunities and will be resigning,” Providence spokesman Mikal Canfield said in a written statement. The final day for Knox, who “asked to resign,” will be April 1, Canfield said.
Knox did not respond to a request for an interview.
Her resignation comes days after the Anchorage Daily News and Wisconsin Watch published the story of Emily and Justin Acker, a Fairbanks-area military family who said Knox misdiagnosed their newborn daughter’s brain injuries as abuse, leading them to lose custody of their two children for most of a year.
Experts hired by the Ackers found Knox’s diagnosis of abusive head trauma was wrong and ignored Izabel’s serious birth injuries. A forensic psychologist found Emily Acker no danger to her children — and a judge agreed.
It wasn’t the first time Knox’s medical judgment and workplace behavior had been scrutinized. In November, Providence said it had launched an investigation into Alaska CARES after a wave of departures that included every member of the medical staff other than Knox. At the time, Providence said it was “aware of increasing concerns about the workplace environment” of the clinic.
Former clinic employees said they had made dozens of complaints over the course of months to Providence management about what they described as bullying and unprofessional behavior by Knox, with no response.
Providence declined to answer questions about the outcome or findings of the investigation, citing the confidentiality of personnel records.
Before becoming medical director of Alaska CARES in 2019, Knox left her position leading the Child Protection Program at American Family Children’s Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, after being placed on paid leave while the university investigated allegations she’d intimidated and bullied colleagues who disagreed with her. Knox’s parting settlement agreement, uncovered by Wisconsin Watch, meant future employers, like Providence, and medical credentialing boards didn’t know the details of why she had left the UW.
After Wisconsin Watch told the story of a Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, family wrongly accused by Knox of child abuse in early 2020, numerous families and caregivers came forward to share similar stories.[Text Wrapping Break]
Wisconsin Watch and the Anchorage Daily News found at least a dozen instances in which Knox’s diagnoses of abuse were later rejected by child welfare authorities, the courts, law enforcement or other doctors. Some parents lost custody of their children at least temporarily, and multiple caregivers and parents were criminally charged on the strength of Knox’s testimony.
“If her resignation is a cover-up from Providence to allow her to leave quietly like she did in Wisconsin, then they need to be held accountable for allowing the possibility that this will occur to more families in more states in the future,” Emily Acker said in a text message.
In an opinion column published by Wisconsin Watch, former Alaska CARES forensic nurse examiner Sarah Wood said Knox “repeatedly said with ‘99.9% certainty’ her medical diagnosis was the correct one, eliminating any other options. She often shopped from her long list of colleagues in the Lower 48 until she got her confirmation, discrediting and mocking those who disagreed or questioned.”
Wisconsin Watch’s coverage included the story of Stacy Hartje, who spent eight years and $250,000 to clear her name after being wrongly charged with abusing a boy at her home day care in Mauston.
“Reading all the stories of so many she’s accused and hurt just makes my blood boil,” Hartje said.
Hartje’s lawyer, Stephen Meyer, said Knox’s resignation does not solve the problems she created.
Asked Meyer: “Who gives back those portions of people’s lives that she took?”
This story was a collaboration between Wisconsin Watch and the Anchorage Daily News. The Fund for Investigative Journalism provided financial support. The nonprofit Wisconsin Watch (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with WPR, PBS Wisconsin, other news media and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by Wisconsin Watch do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.
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