Robert Weaver, the Trump administration’s nominee to head the Indian Health Service, may have misrepresented his employment at a Missouri hospital, according to a report Friday in The Wall Street Journal.
Weaver, 39, is a member of the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma. The White House announced his nomination last October, saying he would bring “nearly two decades of experience in hospital, mental health administration, and entrepreneurship” to IHS.
Weaver reportedly told members of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee that he worked in “supervisory and management positions” at St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Joplin, Missouri, from 1997 to 2006. His résumé, available online, says he managed “all accounts receivable, budgets, patient access, and physician recruitment” in “various positions” for the hospital.
But several employees who worked in those areas of the hospital between 1997 and 2006 told The Wall Street Journal they did not recall Weaver.
“I was the budget coordinator during that whole time,” Rhonda Foust, who worked in finance at the hospital from 1981 to 2010, told The Journal. “If this person was over budgets, I would have known them.”
Jane Obert, the hospital’s compliance officer among from 1992 to 2008, and Diane Sadler, who worked at the hospital as an accounting manager from 1993 until 2010, also did not recall working with Weaver. Augusto Noronha, the hospital’s chief financial officer from 1999 to 2005, and Wayne Noethe, a former hospital controller, said they’d never heard of the nominee.
“I’m sure I would have remembered the last name Weaver,” Sadler said, “because that was my grandmother’s last name.”
One administrator contacted by The Journal, Bob Henderson, did recall Weaver. Henderson, the hospital’s former director of patient financial services, said Weaver worked as a patient registrar in the emergency room and eventually supervised some other patient registrars — though not the whole department.
The hospital could not confirm details of Weaver’s employment because their records were destroyed in a massive tornado in 2011 that left 158 dead and over a thousand injured. A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the Indian Health Services, told The Journal that the tornado also destroyed Weaver’s own records from his time at the hospital.
In a profile published last November in Tribal Business Journal, Weaver related how he began working at the hospital in college. He’d been trying to get an “entry-level” hospital job without any success, he told the Business Journal. When he complained to a classmate he’d been tutoring in art appreciation, the man told him to come see him in his office. The man turned out to be a vice president at the hospital.
“He greeted me with a pack of paperwork and told me to show up on Saturday,” Weaver said. “I spent years there working in seven different positions.”
Weaver told the Senate Indian Affairs Committee that he oversaw 80 to 100 staff during his first few positions at the hospital, according to The Wall Street Journal. His account to the Tribal Business Journal of a hospital administrator helping him get an entry-level job during college appears to cast doubt on that claim.
The Tribal Business Journal article does not mention St. John’s Regional Medical Center by name. But St. John’s is the only hospital listed on Weaver’s public résumé, and the dates for Weaver’s stated employment at the hospital line up with his time in college.
The Wall Street Journal was also unable to confirm Weaver’s college degree. His public résumé says he attended Labette Community College, a two-year college in Parsons, Kansas, from 1995 to 1996 and Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, Missouri, from 1996 to 2001.
Missouri Southern State University records confirm Weaver pursued an BA in Spanish from 1996 to 2001, spokesperson Cassie Mathes told The Journal. But he was still “degree seeking” in 2001 and never graduated. An HHS spokesperson told The Journal that Weaver switched majors from Spanish to international business.
“[A]ny suggestion Mr. Weaver is unqualified to run IHS is a pure act of character assassination,” the spokesperson said.
Asked about Weaver’s experience working with IHS, the spokesperson reportedly pointed to his time as an IHS patient as a child. She would not comment on his claims about his hospital employment.
Weaver started and ran four healthcare-related companies since 2006, according to his public résumé. Those companies provide health and other types of insurance, administer tribal health plans, consult with tribes to on cost savings, and provide medical utilization services.
If confirmed, Weaver will take over an agency plagued with problems. Regulators have barred IHS hospitals from the Medicare program for failing to meet federal standards, according to The Journal, and some in Indian Country say poor care is taking a terrible toll.
Lisa White Pipe, a member for the Rosebud Sioux tribal council, lost her father to cancer in 2016. She blames his death, in part, on IHS delaying his treatment.
“It felt undignified how he was treated,” she told The Wall Street Journal last year. “He was in pain and just pushed to the side.”
Some, like Kay Rhoads, principal chief of the Sac and Fox Nation, say Weaver’s unconventional background may be what’s needed to revitalize the ailing IHS.
‘We’ve had people with medical backgrounds for years,” Rhoads, whose tribe hired Weaver’s consulting company last year, told The Wall Street Journal. “And it hasn’t worked.”
UPDATE, Feb. 22, 2018: Robert Weaver, the Trump administration’s nominee to lead the embattled Indian Health Service, withdrew his name from consideration, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday evening. The move came after two Journal stories about Weaver’s alleged resume padding and financial troubles.
Sen.Tom Udall (D, NM), the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, called on the administration to nominate a more qualified candidate to fill the position, which has been vacant since 2015.
“Now the Trump administration must honor its trust responsibilities to American Indians and Alaska Natives and nominate — and fully vet — a director with the strongest possible combination of leadership and fiduciary skills as well as experience running a large public health system,” Udall told The Wall Street Journal.