The new medical director of Alaska’s statewide clinic for victims of child abuse was investigated for allegations of bullying behavior at her previous job, a Wisconsin news investigation revealed last week.
Dr. Barbara Knox became the medical director of Alaska CARES in October.
Just four months earlier, she’d been put on administrative leave from her job at a Wisconsin medical school after allegations including “intimidation” of colleagues surfaced.
But her work is now under scrutiny because of allegations of overly aggressive tactics that some say pushed conclusions of abuse without evidence.
Questions about Knox’s credibility could have a big impact in Alaska, where she now heads a department charged with making medical determinations about whether a child has been abused or not.
Alaska CARES is an all-in-one Anchorage facility where young suspected victims of abuse from around the state are taken for medical care, counseling and investigations by child protective agencies and police.
Providence Health and Services in Alaska operates the clinic, which gets about 1,000 child patients per year. Last year, the center moved into a new, $12 million state-of-the-art building.
In a statement Monday, Providence said it supports Knox.
“We believe Dr. Knox has the skills and experience to provide high-quality, compassionate care to Alaska’s most vulnerable: children and families who have experienced abuse,” the statement said.
Until last year, Knox was a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Medicine, teaching pediatrics and overseeing a child protection team investigating allegations of child abuse, providing medical care to kids and opinions to police and prosecutors.
Knox was placed on administrative leave last year by her previous employer, the University of Wisconsin - Madison, because of allegations including “intimidation” of colleagues, Wisconsin Watch, the news outlet of the nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, reported Saturday.
“You are on leave because of concerns that arose about the timely completion of your work and your workplace behavior, including unprofessional acts that may constitute retaliation against and/or intimidation of internal and external colleagues,” according to a redacted letter to Knox from the pediatrics department chair posted by Wisconsin Watch.
The university said it had “taken appropriate action” after the allegations against Knox surfaced but didn’t say what that amounted to.
Through a Providence spokesman, Knox offered a letter from her former employer in Wisconsin that says “no disciplinary action” was taken against her.
“The reason she was placed on leave did not relate to dishonesty, clinical skills, medical diagnostic abilities, or incorrect medical diagnoses,” says the letter, signed by the chair of the pediatrics department at the University of Wisconsin’s medical school.
Knox declined to comment further.
In September, the university hired a consultant to review the child protection program, according to the Wisconsin Watch article. The next month, Knox left her $204,000-a-year job at a UW Madison affiliated children’s hospital, according to Wisconsin Watch.
She arrived in Alaska soon after, starting work with Alaska CARES in October, according to Providence.
“I am excited to announce that I have taken my dream job” in Alaska, Knox wrote in a newsletter last fall.
It is not clear how much influence Knox has exercised in Alaska since her move, or whether she has testified in court proceedings or trials here as an expert witness.
The article includes allegations by a Wisconsin family who say they were falsely accused of abusing their baby after they brought him to a hospital with a fever.
The couple told Wisconsin Watch that Knox, head of an investigating team that took the baby’s medically caused bruises as abuse, misrepresented herself, falsely telling them she was a “blood specialist” in the hospital as a ruse to push for further testing.
A forensic pathologist said Knox and other colleagues “peer pressured” him to attribute the death of a baby in another case to injury caused by abuse, according to the article.
Knox works directly with patients and families as part of her job in Alaska, according to Providence.
It’s not clear how much Providence knew about the allegations before Knox was hired.
Providence did not answer questions about Knox’s recruitment or hiring, or whether the hospital was aware that she’d been on administrative leave.
Providence’s hiring process is rigorous and doctors are also vetted by the state’s medical board to get permission to practice here, the hospital said in a statement.
Since the Wisconsin Watch article published on Saturday, dozens of people have contacted the organization with stories about interactions with Knox, said reporter Dee J. Hall.