16 September 2020 02:36


“He Just Empties You All Out”: Whistleblower Reports High Number of Hysterectomies at ICE Detention Facility

A whistleblower complaint filed this week with the Department of Homeland Security's Office of the Inspector General alleges that high rates of hysterectomies — sometimes without what the complaint called "proper informed consent" — have been performed on women detained in a privately owned immigration jail in Georgia. The complaint, filed by the human rights group Project South, quoted a detainee from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Irwin County Detention Center saying that five women who had the procedure between October and December 2019 had told her that they "reacted confused when explaining why they had one done." Multiple women claimed that they did not have access to proper interpreters and that medical staff often did not speak Spanish. The accounts in Project South's complaint — which included that of the whistleblower Dawn Wooten, a licensed practical nurse at the facility — were consistent with accounts given in separate interviews conducted by The Intercept with three other current detainees at the facility, eight advocates for detainees at the prison, and a former Irwin employee, all of whom requested anonymity for fear of reprisals against themselves and their clients. "Everybody he sees has a hysterectomy — just about everybody," Wooten, who is being represented as a whistleblower by Project South and the Government Accountability Project, explained in the complaint. The accounts of the high rates of hysterectomies, which were first reported by the legal website Law and Crime, were also included in the Project South complaint to the Office of the Inspector General.

"That said, in general, anonymous, unproven allegations, made without any fact-checkable specifics, should be treated with the appropriate skepticism they deserve." The agency maintains that the Irwin County Detention Center has been inspected multiple times, with and without warning, and that the facility has been found to be in compliance with Performance-Based National Detention Standards. Georgia State Rep. Bob Trammell sent a letter on Monday to the Georgia Composite Medical Board and the Georgia Board of Nursing after the complaint was published, requesting that they "immediately suspend the licenses of the providers named in the whistleblower complaint pending a full investigation by your offices." Though Wooten, in an interview with The Intercept on Monday, declined to identify the doctor, according to interviews with a detainee, two detainee advocates, and a former Irwin employee, the doctor is Mahendra Amin, an obstetrics and gynecology specialist based in Douglas, Georgia, near Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla. Amin, who has operated through at least one other practice, also has a relationship with Irwin County Hospital, where the immigration detention facility takes some detainees for treatment. Several women whose accounts of medical visits were shared with The Intercept said they had no choice but to go to the doctor, who has become notorious among detainees for "rough treatment" of women during gynecological exams and performing a high number of procedures. In the Project South complaint to the inspector general, Wooten called the doctor "the uterus collector." She told the human rights group, "Everybody he sees, he's taking all their uteruses out, or he's taken their tubes out." An Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Georgia is performing mass hysterectomies on detained immigrants, according to a whistleblower complaint filed by several advocacy groups on behalf of multiple detainees and a nurse who worked at the location.

Nurse Dawn Wooten and several detained women told nonprofit Project South that authorities from the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia, have sent "many women to see a particular gynecologist outside the facility." Wooten expressed concern at the high rate of hysterectomies, a surgical procedure that removes parts or all of the uterus, performed on detained immigrants, according to the complaint. A nurse at a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility in Ocilla, Georgia, claimed in a whistleblower complaint published Monday that female detainees have been subjected to a troublingly high number of hysterectomies while in custody. Wooten, who is named in the complaint, said the frequency of hysterectomies has raised concerns for her and other nurses: "We've questioned among ourselves, like, goodness he's taking everybody's stuff out. ICE spokesperson Lindsay Williams said in a statement that the agency does not comment on complaints like Wooten's that are filed with the Department of Homeland Security's Office of the Inspector General (OIG), a government watchdog. It's not the first time that Project South has raised concerns about human rights abuses at Irwin, which can hold around 1,200 detainees: A report released by the organization in 2017 found that the center wasn't feeding detainees enough and serving them spoiled food, as well as paying them less than $1 a day to do voluntary work that helped them pay for more food and phone access, which was prohibitively expensive.

The complaint raises questions about whether the detainees who had hysterectomies could give informed consent, given that they did not speak English and the detention center did not always use translators to communicate. One detained immigrant, who was not named in the complaint, told Project South that when she asked what treatment she was receiving before she was subjected to a hysterectomy, she was given different answers by three different people: a doctor, a corrections officer transporting her to the hospital, and a nurse at the detention center. Wooten, the nurse, said in the complaint that while the procedure might have been necessary for some women experiencing heavy menstrual bleeding or other severe issues, "everybody's uterus cannot be that bad." One woman, Wooten said, was supposed to have a single ovary removed, but the gynecologist accidentally took out the wrong one and then gave her a total hysterectomy. A gynecologist dubbed 'the uterus collector' performed hysterectomies on 'everybody he saw' at a Georgia immigrant detention facility, a whistleblower nurse has claimed. The complaint to the Homeland Security Department's internal watchdog relies on accounts of Dawn Wooten, who worked full-time as a licensed practical nurse at the Irwin County Detention Center until July, when she was demoted to work as needed.

The facility in Ocilla, about 200 miles south of Atlanta, houses men and women detainees for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as inmates for the U.S. Marshals Service and Irwin County. While the 27-page complaint filed by advocacy group Project South quotes unidentified detainees extensively, it also includes detailed comments from Wooten.