Former University of Wisconsin Dr. Barbara Knox has resigned as medical director of Alaska’s forensic child abuse clinic. Knox has been on leave from Alaska CARES since the fall after a wave of departures that included every member of the medical staff other than Knox. Claire DeRosa / Wisconsin Watch and University of Wisconsin file photo
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The embattled head of Alaska’s statewide child abuse forensic clinic — who also left the University of Wisconsin under a cloud of controversy — will soon resign, Providence Alaska Medical Center said.

Alaska CARES medical director’s Dr. Barbara Knox “has chosen to pursue other opportunities and will be resigning,” Providence spokesman Mikal Canfield said in a written statement. The final day for Knox, who “asked to resign,” will be April 1, Canfield said.

Knox did not respond to a request for an interview.

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.

Emily Acker holds her 1-year-old daughter, Izabel, at their home on Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks, Alaska, on Jan. 13, 2022. Justin and Emily Acker were erroneously accused of abusing Izabel as a newborn. Medical experts found the injuries the baby suffered when she was 3 weeks old likely stemmed from her traumatic birth. Emily Mesner / Anchorage Daily News

Experts hired by the Ackers found Knox’s diagnosis of abusive head trauma was wrong and ignored Izabel’s serious birth injuries. A forensic psychologist found Emily Acker no danger to her children — and a judge agreed.

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. 

Providence declined to answer questions about the outcome or findings of the investigation, citing the confidentiality of personnel records. 

Before becoming medical director of Alaska CARES in 2019, Knox left her position leading the Child Protection Program at American Family Children’s Hospital in Madison, 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, uncovered by Wisconsin Watch, meant future employers, like Providence, and medical credentialing boards didn’t know the details of why she had left the UW.

After Wisconsin Watch told the story of a Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, family wrongly accused by Knox of child abuse in early 2020, numerous families and caregivers came forward to share similar stories.

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Wisconsin Watch and the Anchorage Daily News found at least a dozen instances in which Knox’s diagnoses of abuse were later rejected by child welfare authorities, the courts, law enforcement or other doctors. Some parents lost custody of their children at least temporarily, and multiple caregivers and parents were criminally charged on the strength of Knox’s testimony.

“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.

In an opinion column published by Wisconsin Watch, former Alaska CARES forensic nurse examiner Sarah Wood said Knox “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.”

Stacy Hartje was accused in 2007 of abusing a 3-year-old child who collapsed while in her care. She saw a county prosecutor issue and then drop charges due to a lack of evidence — only to later face two trials on revived state charges. A jury found Hartje not guilty of all charges in October 2015. Hartje’s saga was among a dozen cases Wisconsin Watch found in which Dr. Barbara Knox’s assessment of child abuse was rejected by the criminal justice system, child protective services officials or other physicians. Hartje was photographed in downtown Baraboo, Wis., on Aug. 24, 2021. Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch

Wisconsin Watch’s coverage included the story of Stacy Hartje, who spent eight years and $250,000 to clear her name after being wrongly charged with abusing a boy at her home day care in Mauston.

“Reading all the stories of so many she’s accused and hurt just makes my blood boil,” Hartje said.

Hartje’s lawyer, Stephen Meyer, said Knox’s resignation does not solve the problems she created.

Asked Meyer: “Who gives back those portions of people’s lives that she took?”

This story was a collaboration between Wisconsin Watch and the Anchorage Daily News. The Fund for Investigative Journalism provided financial support. The nonprofit Wisconsin Watch ( collaborates with WPR, PBS Wisconsin, other news media and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by Wisconsin Watch do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

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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.

Brenda Wintrode joined the Center in July 2021 as a Roy W. Howard fellow. She is a native of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, and earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration at Bryant University in Rhode Island. After switching careers from finance, she was named the Philip Merrill College of Journalism’s outstanding master’s student when she graduated in 2020. As a reporter for the Howard Center, Wintrode was the lead writer on the award-winning investigation of the federal CARES Act’s failure to prevent evictions during the pandemic. She was also a key reporter on the center’s investigation of homelessness, documenting how cities treated people living in encampments. She covered Maryland state government for Capital News Service and did data analysis for Maryland Matters.