Alaska News

Embattled Alaska child abuse pediatrician will resign

barbara knox

The embattled head of Alaska’s statewide child abuse forensic clinic has resigned, Providence Alaska Medical Center said Thursday.

Alaska CARES medical director Dr. Barbara Knox “has chosen to pursue other opportunities and will be resigning,” Providence spokesman Mikal Canfield said in a written statement. She asked to resign, Canfield said.

Knox did not respond to a request for an interview Thursday.

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.

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. The hospital system said Knox “asked to resign.”

“I am saddened that CARES is (losing) a well-respected child abuse, board certified pediatrician,” Pam Karalunas, a longtime child protection advocate who has been a vocal supporter of Knox, wrote in an email. “It is very unfortunate that, due to HIPPA laws and to the ethics of confidentiality, those who are highly trained and extremely knowledgeable are unable to address specific cases, and so are tried and convicted in the court of public opinion, rather than based on a full review of documentation and the facts.”

Providence declined to answer questions about the outcome or findings of the investigation, citing confidentiality for personnel records. Alaska CARES remains open and operating, and a new medical director will be named “at a later date,” Canfield said.

Before becoming medical director of Alaska CARES in 2019, Knox left a job at the University of 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 with the university meant future employers, like Providence, and credentialing boards didn’t know the details of why she’d left.

Wisconsin Watch, a nonprofit investigative newsroom, found more than a dozen other instances in which Knox’s diagnoses of abuse were later rejected by child welfare authorities, the courts, law enforcement or other doctors.

Knox’s last day is April 1, according to Providence.

“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 Thursday.

Michelle Theriault Boots

Michelle Theriault Boots is a reporter who covers news and features about life in Alaska, and has been focusing on corrections and psychiatric care issues in the state. Contact her at mtheriault@adn.com.

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