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Whistleblower prompts DHS investigation of a detention center

On Behalf of | Jan 28, 2022 | Whistleblower Protection

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General issued a damning new report entitled “Medical Processes and Communication Protocols Need Improvement at Irwin County Detention Center” (ICDC). The DHS filed the report in response to the 2020 whistleblower complaint filed on September 14 that alleged widespread neglect at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Ocilla, Georgia.

The complaint filed by a nurse documents a wide range of medical neglect at ICDC, where there was widespread disregard for public health guidelines set by the CDC in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

LaSalle Corrections is in charge of ICDC and the nurse’s employer. The protected whistleblower cited widespread mismanagement regarding COVID protocols at other facilities and ICDC. While there were general inhumane conditions before the pandemic, COVID made matters much worse, putting detainees and staff at greater risk. It included:

  • The refusal to test detainees showing COVID symptoms
  • The refusal to use over-the-counter medications to treat COVID symptoms
  • Shredding medical request forms from detainees
  • The fabrication of medical records
  • Transferring immigrants who tested positive for COVID
  • Not Properly quarantining new arrivals

There were also the bizarre yet factual details regarding extremely high rates of hysterectomies performed on women in custody, which a specific gynecologist did. Those who endured these procedures usually did not understand that it caused infertility because the ICDC staff and doctor’s office did not properly explain the procedure. The doctor also reportedly performed rectal exams without using a glove. Several detainees and the nurse confirmed this information.

LaSalle also reportedly demoted the whistleblower for her numerous complaints and actions to treat detainees. The company reportedly also warned her to stop telling officers that the detainees they dealt with tested positive.

Congress responded

The whistleblower complaint drew widespread attention and prompted a Congressional Investigation in September of 2020, specifically addressing the high number of hysterectomies. These investigations involved victims’ testimony before a Congressional Committee. Despite the evidence in the testimony and news articles about ICDC, the former-DHS Deputy Secretary denied the claims and said they should never have been reported. Congress passed a resolution with 225 members condemning the actions at ICDC.

This led to five recommendations by DHS OIG that, in brief, involve:

  • ICDC updates its’ processes to be compliant
  • New training for the ICDC staff about administering medication and maintaining records
  • Require ICDC staff and management to keep detainees informed during the pandemic and other situations that arise
  • Develop better communication between detention sites and field offices that oversee them
  • Conduct a review of ICDC management and update the Detainee Handbook with current information

Since ICE severed ties to ICDC, the DHS no longer has oversight on the detention center. However, it still points out the need for accountability for all detention facilities operated by outside contractors. The whistleblower still waits to hear about employer retaliation for filing her complaint. The woman is a single mother of five who puts the needs of others ahead of those of herself and her children.