Nurse questions medical care, hysterectomies at ICE detention center in Georgia

This article features our client Dawn Wooten and was originally published here.

WASHINGTON — A nurse who worked at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Irwin County, Georgia and four lawyers representing clients there are claiming that immigrant women are routinely being sent to a gynecologist who has left them bruised and performed unnecessary procedures, including hysterectomies.

The doctor, who three lawyers identified as Dr. Mahendra Amin, practicing in Douglas, Georgia, has continued to see women from the Irwin County Detention Center for the past several years despite complaints from his patients.

Amin was the subject of a Justice Department investigation in 2015 for making false claims to Medicaid and Medicare. As a result, he and other doctors involved paid $525,000 in a civil settlement, according to the Justice Department.

The lawyers identified the doctor after a whistleblower complaint to the Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security was filed by Dawn Wooten, who worked as a nurse inside the facility. She said in the complaint that detainees were not getting Covid-19 tests and other needed medical care. The complaint was first reported by the Intercept.

Wooten worked full time as a licensed practical nurse at the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia, until being demoted in July.

The complaint cites both allegations from unnamed detained immigrants and Wooten.

The facility houses immigrant detainees in the custody of ICE, which is a part of the Department of Homeland Security. It also houses inmates for Irwin County and the U.S. Marshals Service.

Project South, Georgia Detention Watch, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights and South Georgia Immigrant Support Network filed the complaint on behalf of detained immigrants at the center and Wooten.

Wooten was demoted in July from a full-time nurse to “as-needed” after missing work because she had coronavirus symptoms. She said she believes the demotion was in retaliation for raising coronavirus protocol concerns, according to the complaint.

She also said that there was not enough active testing of the immigrant detainees for the coronavirus and that the facility was not “reporting all these cases that are positive,” meaning the number of cases at the facility was possibly much higher than that reported by ICE.

Elizabeth Mathren, a lawyer who represented several women who saw Amin through her work with the Southern Poverty Law Center, where she was employed from 2017 to 2019, said she brought their complaints to managers of the detention facility.

“Two to three years ago, I had a face-to-face conversation with (someone in management). I was so disturbed. I begged her to get my client treatment with a different doctor. I told her I had heard from multiple people that he was rough, that they were scared to go to him, that they didn’t understand what he was doing,” said Elizabeth Mathren, who represented several women through her work with the Southern Poverty Law Center beginning in 2017.

Mathren she had at least one client report bruising after being examined by Amin.

But Mathren said immigrant women have continually been sent to Amin, despite concerns. The facility is privately contracted by LaSalle Corrections.

In a statement, a company spokesperson said, “LaSalle Corrections has a strict zero tolerance policy for any kind of inappropriate behavior in our facilities and takes all allegations of such mistreatment seriously. Our company strongly refutes these allegations and any implications of misconduct at the ICDC.”

A woman who answered the phone at Amin’s practice hung up the phone when asked for comment.

Benjamin Osorio, another lawyer representing women in the Irwin County facility, said two of his clients received hysterectomies that they believe may have been unnecessary.

One of the women, who is of child-bearing age, was told she needed to have a hysterectomy after Amin found ovarian cysts, Osorio said. She was advised that they were cancerous, but her records indicate she was not given a biopsy to confirm the cancer, he said. In another case, he said, his client was told she had stage 4 cervical cancer and would need a hysterectomy and chemotherapy. But after her hysterectomy, an oncologist in Charlotte said she did not have cancer, according to Osorio.

Another lawyer, Sarah Owings, said she has heard of many women who are told they have ovarian cysts that need to be removed or drained.