Whistleblower nurse claims Georgia ICE facility ignores COVID-19 safety precautions, denies care

A nurse is accusing a Georgia Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center of ignoring COVID-19 safety precautions and denying detainees medicine and checkups, according to a federal complaint cited by The Washington Post. 

Dawn Wooten, who worked as a nurse at the Irwin County Detention Center until July, filed a 27-page complaint Sept. 14 with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General. The complaint alleges widespread disregard for the well-being of staff members and inmates, claiming detainees were denied tests despite having COVID-19 symptoms; patients with positive test results were placed back in the general population; and officials misreported the number of infections.

Detainees interviewed for the report said social distancing was impossible and everyone was given just one mask and no replacement. Although ICE purchased two $14,000 rapid-test machines, Ms. Wooten said nurses were never trained to use them. 

The Ocilla, Ga.-based facility has only reported 42 COVID-19 cases and no related deaths, though Ms. Wooten claims those numbers aren’t accurate because officials haven’t been reporting all cases. Ms. Wooten also said nurses routinely destroyed paper requests from detainees asking for medical help and fabricated vital signs for reports after not seeing patients.

Ms. Wooten also claims a high number of female detainees were given hysterectomies — possibly without understanding what the procedure was because most staff members don’t speak Spanish. The report didn’t include any detainees who said they had experienced a hysterectomy against their will.

In light of Ms. Wooten’s allegations, Georgia House Minority Leader Robert Trammell Jr., D-Luthersville, requested the state medical and nursing boards suspend the licenses of any practitioners implicated by the complaint until a full investigation is done.

ICE didn’t immediately respond to the Post’s request for comment. The agency did tell the Associated Press, “In general, anonymous, unproven allegations, made without any fact-checkable specifics, should be treated with the appropriate skepticism they deserve.”

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