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Alaska’s children deserve better

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I write this because I am strongly connected to my role as a forensic nurse examiner, and I am one of the former Alaska CARES employees who spoke out against the actions of Dr. Barbara Knox. Alaska CARES houses some of the most compassionate advocates, medical staff and law enforcement detectives in the field who are dedicated to helping children that are victims of child maltreatment.

Dr. Knox uprooted Anchorage’s child advocacy center and it is her actions, that I judge to be self-serving and uncompassionate, that directly discredit the hard work of the staff, my former colleagues and any future staff of Alaska CARES. To make matters worse, Providence Alaska Medical Center and Providence Medical Group hide behind the claim that the media is on a witch hunt and that this is all generated from disgruntled ex-employees. What Providence is reluctant to say is that they made a mistake. And because they were heavily invested in the promising picture Dr. Knox painted for Alaska’s children,nthey turned a blind eye to the numerous concerns brought to their attention.

Full disclosure: In 2019, we were all in awe of Dr. Knox’s 72-page CV. And it was with excitement and hope that Alaska CARES’ leadership and medical providers welcomed the ability Dr. Knox had to provide expert medical testimony in difficult child abuse cases — something Alaska has yet to do. The excitement abruptly ended in May 2020, when, after numerous concerns regarding her behavior during the previous months were dismissed by Alaska CARES’ manager and his direct supervisor, Dr. Knox started to refuse to follow protocols, be on call or provide consultation and leadership to her own medical staff. When we did not swoon over her invitation to train us all to be “just like my PAs (physician assistants),” she started to micromanage us, undermine our profession and keep us out of important case follow-up. She became heavily aligned with certain staff of the Office of Children Services, only allowing certain people to staff cases and began questioning the role of the forensic nurses. She told her narrative the loudest until she was no longer questioned by the other team members. She 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.

An addition we thought would be an asset to a team to help bring justice to the victims of child abuse is now putting any child abuse case that is finally seeing its day in court at risk of dismissal or out-of-court settlement because of Dr. Knox’s affiliation with Alaska CARES. This is no witch hunt, and it is far from an isolated case. If Providence truly did a thorough investigation, they would know that. Without question, child maltreatment is happening in Alaska. There are many people who have caused psychological and physical trauma to their children, and those children deserve justice. But there is a way to properly investigate and provide safety to all protective parties. That way is through trauma-informed care, compassion, emotional intelligence and, most importantly, teamwork. The actions of Dr. Knox are the antithesis of all the hard work it took to build Alaska CARES.

My fellow residents, the Alaska CARES staff I admire and trust, would never leave a nursing mother in the cold and tell her to find an Uber and a hotel room. There are a half-dozen ways to devise a safety plan for a hospitalized infant that doesn’t involve removing the infant’s food source or touch of their mother’s skin. But at the same time, I am not surprised by these actions, because I worked on other cases and witnessed both Dr. Knox and the OCS worker’s toxic behaviors.

I don’t know how this will end or if there will ever be closure but here are my hopes:

• Providence Medical Group will terminate their contract with Dr. Knox, because there is no coming back from the damage she has done, and the children of Alaska are worth the financial loss PMG will most likely take.

• Providence Alaska Medical Center will issue a written apology to the staff of Alaska CARES for minimizing concerns and choosing to protect Dr. Knox over all the employees at Alaska CARES.

• A thorough investigation is conducted by the State of Alaska of the staff employed by the Office of Children Services who worked countless cases with Dr. Knox.

And lastly, I hope for healing for my team — the team that was robbed of the profession that they loved and valued so much.

Sarah Wood, RN, BSN, SANE-P, formerly worked as a forensic nurse examiner at Alaska CARES.

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