Published February 26, 2018
My Side of the Story: Robert Weaver, President Trump’s Former Nominee for Indian Health Service Director
By Robert Weaver, President Trump’s Former Indian Health Services Nominee, Founder and CEO of RWI Benefits, LLC
This is a continuation of Saturday’s Guest Commnentary in Native News Online:
My name is Robert Weaver, a member of the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma, unashamed follower of Jesus Christ, husband, father of four, small business owner and Native American entrepreneur, and until a few days ago, President Trump’s Nominee to be the Director of the Indian Health Service. He tapped me to lead this dysfunctional agency (see the Dorgan Report, OIG Reports, GAO Reports, etc.) because I’ve spent the last decade of my life starting and operating successful businesses and creating jobs in Indian Country that improve Native peoples’ access to health care—nearly 16,000 lives to date. One of them, RWI Benefits, LLC, was named 2017’s Indian-Owned Business of the Year by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development. I’m not a politician—Native American health and wellness are my passion and mission. Not being perfect, I have made mistakes in life, but I’ve learned from those mistakes and am better for them. Words of wisdom from a good friend and Tribal leader taught me to never, ever give up and keep moving forward.
I admire President Trump’s support for the forgotten man, and I answered his call to serve as IHS Director because I share that passion. Unfortunately, my nomination got derailed by the snowballing after effects of the release to the public of an unauthorized, “work-in-process” personal background draft document by someone in the government (who knows who?) to one of our Tribal health organizations. They then sent this out to their entire list of members. That document was then picked up by the press who combined it with disingenuous quotes from partisan actors in the government to create a narrative about me that simply wasn’t true. I’ll address those “quotes” below. After this was published, I was “strongly” advised by the Department of Health and Human Services, (HHS) not to fight back because I was in the midst of a confirmation process. “That’s just the process,” was the main theme of those conversations. Now that I’m no longer in the middle of a Deep State knife fight, I want to set the record straight with the truth.
The document that was used by the press was a work-in-progress draft put together by staff at HHS as they worked with me to gather information for official disclosures and wasn’t to be shared with anyone. Somehow, it got leaked, unfortunately not much of a surprise in D.C. these days. The only authorized disclosures of my full background were made to the Senate, the FBI, and the Office of Government Ethics during the confirmation process. The vetting process in D.C., despite rumors to the contrary, is very vigorous, thorough, and takes months. If the press had access to my authentic background, or the confidential information submitted, much of this would have been cleared up immediately.
To be more specific:
- I attended college, did not graduate, and never claimed or represented myself as obtaining a degree. I don’t regret not finishing college. I love education and greatly support those who pursue it; however, it’s not a prerequisite for success. The people I’ve been blessed to help and the employees that I’ve had the honor to work with after creating their jobs didn’t seem to mind my lack of a degree when I hired them. It’s astounding the number of millionaires and billionaires, famous and not, who managed to be huge successes all without a degree. It’s also sad to me that people with an MBA or a Ph.D. apply for my lowest paying, entry-level jobs because they can’t find anything in their field. I’m glad that President Trump got his tax plan into law so that this situation can improve.
- When I started at St. John’s Hospital in 1997 at the age of 19, I started as an entry-level weekend admissions clerk (I never claimed otherwise) which allowed me to get more than two hours of sleep a night as I could now quit two of the other jobs I held during the week while I was attending college. My family is hard working but couldn’t afford to pay for my education so I worked and went to school like many successful people do. I have an official W-2 from 1997 that proves my employment at St. John’s.
Working my way up to middle management, I became Patient Access Coordinator in 1999. Below is page 1 of my job description signed by St. John’s CFO at the time, Augusto (Tony) Noronha III confirming this.This is the same Tony Noronha who is one of the people quoted in media articles stating that he couldn’t even remember my name. My Director, Robert Henderson, who was also quoted in the media, also signed this job description. For whatever reason, I am lost to their memory, but this would not be unusual when talking about events from 20 years ago in a hospital with 2,000 employees. The position of Patient Access Coordinator was a leadership position, as was the position of Admissions Supervisor.
- In response to the few people from St John’s whose quotes were reported by the media, here are some that weren’t.
Dottie Bringle, former Chief Operating Officer at St. John’s, “Mr. Weaver served in various leadership roles which were within my line of authority.”
Dr. Renee Walker writes, “I have been on the active medical staff of St. John’s Regional Medical Center (now known as Mercy-Joplin) from 1997 to the present where I have not only practiced medicine, but also served on many committees, including the Medical Executive Committee. Rob [Weaver] played many roles at the medical center and during his tenure we had many interactions that dealt with physician recruitment and retention, as well as in a number of other roles…Rob worked behind the scenes with little or no recognition to make physician lives and jobs easier. As a member of leadership, he oversaw a great deal of the employees and was the go to guy to get things done.”
Melissa Snyder writes, “I worked with Robert Weaver from 1998-2002 at St. John’s…I’m outraged as I have been reading articles with false accusations against Mr. Weaver. His position was Patient Access Coordinator, as I recall…Mr. Weaver was my supervisor from 1998-2002, and I worked in a department that had over 100 employees…I can tell you for certain that Mr. Weaver was over all of the employees in the Patient Access Department.
- As an aside, I never told HHS that all my documents were destroyed by the horrific 2011 Joplin tornado. While St. John’s hospital, my office, and my home were destroyed in the storm, I was able to salvage some of them. See the picture below of my office immediately post-storm. I do, however, find it reprehensible that some people quoted in the media made light of that tragedy. Thousands of lives were ruined and 161 people were killed in this storm, one of the worst tornadoes in American history.
- My confirmation disclosures clearly state that I worked at Herndon Snider & Associates (an outpatient mental health facility) from 2004-2008. The practice’s founder and namesake who said in the press he wouldn’t hire me again is, I have been told, a very good doctor, but he wasn’t the owner of the firm, my boss, or even worked at HSA during the time I was there. I knew him but didn’t realize that he held such a personal dislike for me. The actual owner and my supervisor, Dr. Jan Snider Kent (his daughter), gave me permission to sell insurance products while employed there, and the notion that I left the practice in “financial disarray” or because of some financial dispute is totally false. In fact, Herndon Snider and Associates was my first group client as an independent insurance producer. When I left HSA, I gave HSA a notice of three months and helped with the transition for about six months after leaving. I left on good terms with the actual owner.
Rachal Bales, MA, LMFT writes, “I have known Robert since 2005, when he hired me as the new Marital and Family Therapist…I had been a therapist working with children and families in California, and was passionate about trauma and the human capacity to resolve traumatic life experiences through mental health treatment. While I initially had reservations about having a non-clinical boss, Robert not only recognized the vital importance of trauma resolution therapy, but specifically facilitated my ability to become trained in….(EMDR) because he recognized the innovative and progressive nature of this treatment for PTSD. He has a keen business mind, and an ability to listen and discern what is critical from what is noise. This made him uniquely qualified to turn around a failing practice, to bring in a cutting- edge treatment modality, and to create a business model that allowed the clinicians to focus on treating our clients, not be distracted by practice logistics.”
Karen Faubion, MS, NCC, LPC writes, “I first met Rob…when he was hired as Practice Manager at Herndon Snider & Associates…Any reservations I had diminished after our first meeting…Until then, clinicians did not have anyone to advocate for them and at time, we felt unappreciated. Robert’s first step was to meet with all of the therapists to gather clinical information about what improvements were needed. Robert was sincere in his desire to make the practice successful for all of us. As a result, meaningful changes were made within the practice for clinicians…In August of 2014, I started my own mental health private practice. By fall of 2016, thebusiness was not profitable and I was looking at closing the practice within a few months. I contacted Robert and requested a financial consultation with him, as I was confident that his business mind and experience in creating growth would be the best change to remain open and transform to a successful business model. Robert immediately agreed to meet and he was open, honest and direct about the changes needed to become a success. We are turning the corner now a short five months later.”
Amy Kohlbusch writes, “In 2004, I was hired as Practice Manager at a private practice mental health clinic. When I was hired, this practice was failing. I contacted Robert and he agreed to join the business. I reduced my role and he became Practice Manager. Within the first 3 months he turned the practice around by bringing in roughly $400,000 in accts receivable. Robert had the ability to vigorously engage all levels of administrators to resolve accounts payable.”
- With respect to my entire employment history, including my tenure at HSA, the FBI and the Office of Governmental Ethics did an extensive background check, and the result was that I received the “pre-clearance” designation in September 2017 that was essential to the nomination process proceeding. I thoroughly answered the questions contained in the extensive questionnaire from the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.
There were also questions about my personal finances that muddied the water around my nomination:
- I declared personal bankruptcy in 2001 at the age of 23 because I made some poor financial decisions in my late teens and early twenties. This happened before I got married, had four children, made millions of dollars, and started multiple businesses that have served the health care needs of thousands of Native Americans. My story is the reason we allow people to declare bankruptcy: Learning from my mistakes, I moved on to a very successful career.
- Two tax liens were filed against one of my businesses in 2010. An employee concealed the fact that payroll taxes were not paid for 3 quarters. After discovery, this person was immediately dismissed. Thankfully, we had a process in place to ensure that such items would be discovered and disclosed to me, and these tax payments were addressed and resolved immediately and the liens were lifted. The business itself was never in any financial trouble.
- I donated $500 per month personally from March through November of 2017 to the Make America Great Again Committee. This is not a scandal; it’s free speech. I support President Trump, and I would do it again.
The allegations raised against me in the media articles are baseless, irrelevant, or simply wrong. With the congestion in the confirmation process in the Senate that is well known, even the hint of controversy drummed up by the Deep State within our government can be destructive to a nominee. Many people told me not to combat that element out of fear of retribution but, the truth needs to be spoken. As a businessman and entrepreneur, I will continue my fight to improve native peoples’ health and wellness.
To conclude, although I’m usually private about most things, this process has forced me to speak up. After almost one year going through the process at great personal and financial hardship, having my businesses affected, my family exposed to ridicule, and my integrity and credibility challenged, all of that was disregarded and my nomination was whisked off the table by HHS after giving me two minutes notice, primarily because of what I believe was the one sided and misleading information created and promoted by the “Deep State”. My nomination had support from Indian Country and many others who care about healthcare in Indian Country. The evidence presented and the quotes from people who do remember me and know my qualifications support my skill and integrity. It’s unfortunate that HHS didn’t fight these false narratives more effectively. Hopefully, my experience in this matter will do something to change the culture in D.C. and in our government that allows this to occur on a far too common basis.
Now it’s time for me to go out and serve Indian Country doing what I do best—helping people. It is my hope that someday Indian Country will be given a permanent Indian Health Service Director that the “Swamp” will find suitable and that he or she will actually be able to get something done. Most importantly, Tribal leaders must be heard and real action taken to solve the health care crisis in Indian Country. It’s been three years and counting for IHS under four different Acting Directors, and now very soon it’s about to have a fifth due to the provisions of the Vacancies Act. Indian Country deserves better, and deserves it as soon as possible.
Robert Weaver can be contacted at email@example.com