APHA urges inquiry into federal immigrant center medical practices

Date: Sep 17 2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Media Relations

The American Public Health Association is seeking an immediate, thorough and independent investigation into a nurse’s whistleblower complaint about a Georgia immigration detention facility alleging forced mass hysterectomies. The whistleblower also raised concerns about other improper medical practices that could lead to the spread of COVID-19 at the facility.

“We are disturbed by the horrifying nature of these allegations, and we decry any such conduct,” said Georges C. Benjamin, MD, executive director of APHA. “A proper investigation must be carried out with purpose to find the truth.”

APHA opposes any forced sterilization as coercion in family planning. Any investigation into the detention center’s actions should review conduct of any physicians by the Georgia medical board, Benjamin said.

The whistleblower complaint also alleged that the facility, run by Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, refused to test detainees for COVID-19, including those who are symptomatic. The allegations included reports that medical requests submitted by immigrants were falsified and destroyed.

“Those claims only add to the complicated nature of this case, and reflects the need for an investigation that leaves no stone unturned,” Benjamin said. “We are in the midst of a terrible pandemic, and every person must not only be treated medically with utmost respect, but must be evaluated to thwart potential spread of COVID-19.”

The focus of the claims is at the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia, which houses immigrants detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  A private company, LaSalle Corrections, runs the facility. Dawn Wooten, a nurse who worked at the facility until July, filed a whistleblower complaint, which her attorney described as “jarring medical neglect” at the facility.

A follow-up complaint filed by Project South and other groups describes widespread medical malpractice at the facility, including withholding medication. That complaint also says Wooten was reprimanded and demoted after being required to work even while displaying symptoms of COVID-19.

“Our nation has a terrible history of government supported medical abuse of women of color and people with disabilities,” Benjamin said “Let’s hope that is not the case again this time.”

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The American Public Health Association champions the health of all people and all communities. We are the only organization that combines a nearly 150-year perspective, a broad-based member community and the ability to influence federal policy to improve the public’s health. Learn more at www.apha.org.