House members: Georgia doctor should no longer treat ICE detainees

Top congressional Democrats are demanding the Biden administration ban a South Georgia doctor from treating any more immigration detainees, alleging he did not meet acceptable standards of care and may have performed unnecessary surgery to defraud the federal government. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
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Top congressional Democrats are demanding the Biden administration ban a South Georgia doctor from treating any more immigration detainees, alleging he did not meet acceptable standards of care and may have performed unnecessary surgery to defraud the federal government. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Physician ‘did not meet acceptable standards of care’

Top congressional Democrats are demanding the Biden administration ban a South Georgia doctor from treating any more immigration detainees, alleging he did not meet acceptable standards of care and may have performed unnecessary surgery to defraud the federal government.

In a letter Friday to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the four House committee and subcommittee leaders detailed their allegations about the medical treatment Dr. Mahendra Amin gave to female detainees held in the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla.

ExplorePrevious coverage: At ICE detention center, red flag raised about gynecologist

“We write to share this information with you, to demand that Dr. Amin never treat anyone in ICE custody again, and to request a briefing on the steps the Department of Homeland Security is taking to ensure that migrants receive appropriate medical care while in the department’s custody.”

An attorney for Amin denied the allegations.

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In a letter Friday to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the four House committee and subcommittee leaders detailed their allegations about the medical treatment Dr. Mahendra Amin gave to female detainees held in the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

In a letter Friday to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the four House committee and subcommittee leaders detailed their allegations about the medical treatment Dr. Mahendra Amin gave to female detainees held in the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
caption arrowCaption
In a letter Friday to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the four House committee and subcommittee leaders detailed their allegations about the medical treatment Dr. Mahendra Amin gave to female detainees held in the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

“Dr. Amin did not perform one single procedure that was not reviewed by the government beforehand to ensure medical necessity and appropriateness,” Amin’s attorney, Scott Grubman, said in an email. “So, the answer is no, he did not seek to defraud the government.”

The Homeland Security Department issued a statement in response to questions from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday, saying it is working with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to ensure its detention centers are “held to the appropriate health and safety standards. Secretary Mayorkas continues to evaluate DHS detention policies and will be issuing additional immigration-related policy memos, including memos addressing immigration detention.”

ExplorePrevious coverage: At Georgia immigration jail, warnings about women’s medical care went unheeded

The House members who sent the letter include U.S. Reps. Nanette Barragán, Carolyn Maloney, Jamie Raskin and Bennie Thompson. Their panels began investigating Amin last year after allegations surfaced that he performed hysterectomies and other surgical procedures on women held at the jail in Ocilla without their consent.

As part of their investigation, the committees gathered records from the jail’s owner, Louisiana-based LaSalle Corrections. LaSalle initially refused to turn over the documents, according to the House members, who said they issued a subpoena in response.

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Irwin County and jail officials objected to the government’s decision to remove the ICE detainees, fearing for the fate of the detention center, the county’s largest private employer.

Credit: Curtis Compton

Irwin County and jail officials objected to the government’s decision to remove the ICE detainees, fearing for the fate of the detention center, the county’s largest private employer.
caption arrowCaption
Irwin County and jail officials objected to the government’s decision to remove the ICE detainees, fearing for the fate of the detention center, the county’s largest private employer.

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

The records were reviewed by Dr. Tony Ogburn, chairman of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Ogburn, the House members said, could not conclude whether patients received unwanted hysterectomies. But he filed a complaint against Amin with the Georgia Composite Medical Board, citing other concerns.

ExplorePrevious coverage: ICE detainees complained about ‘rough’ treatment from Georgia doctor

Ogburn, who has worked as a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist for nearly three decades and who has led organizations that develop patient care standards, said Amin did a variety of tests and surgeries for patients that “did them little or no good, and potentially caused harm.”

“In summary the care provided by Dr. Amin did not meet acceptable standards based on the review of these records,” Ogburn wrote as part of his complaint. “My concern is that he was not competent and simply did the same evaluation and treatment on most patients because that is what he knew how to do, and/or he did tests and treatments that generated a significant amount of reimbursement without benefitting most patients.”

Ten former Irwin detainees have also filed complaints with the Georgia Composite Medical Board against Amin, said Maura Finn, a lead attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative. Those complaints, she said Tuesday, are still pending.

An official with the Georgia board said Tuesday that all of the panel’s investigations and complaints are confidential.

Georgia ranks near the bottom nationally for imposing serious disciplinary actions on its licensed physicians, leaving patients vulnerable to incompetent, impaired or abusive physicians, according to a study released this year by Public Citizen, a national consumer advocacy organization. The report reinforced findings from last year in a state audit that criticized the Georgia Composite Medical Board for rarely punishing the state’s doctors.

ExplorePrevious coverage: Closing an ICE jail in South Georgia would cheer activists but harm a rural community’s economy

ICE transferred its remaining 40 detainees out of the Ocilla jail on Sept. 3. The move followed a whistleblower complaint and a federal lawsuit alleging a high number of hysterectomies and other invasive gynecological procedures had been performed on Irwin detainees without their informed consent.

In court papers, former detainees detailed their experiences, saying they awoke from what they thought were minor surgeries to learn they were no longer able to bear children. The whistleblower complaint also accused the jail of not doing enough to protect its staff and detainees from COVID-19.

Irwin County and jail officials objected to the government’s decision to remove the ICE detainees, fearing for the fate of the detention center, the county’s largest private employer. In September, it employed more than 200 people with a $10.5 million annual payroll. The jail has also spent millions annually on local goods and services in the area, according to the county.

The jail is still holding detainees, though none of them are from ICE, David Paulk, the detention center’s warden, said Tuesday. Paulk said there has been a “significant economic impact” stemming from the government’s decision to stop sending ICE detainees to Irwin. Asked for specifics, he referred questions to another official at LaSalle, Scott Sutterfield, who did not provide details but who defended the jail.

The detention center, Sutterfield said, “was guided by the standards set by ICE and other government partners, including the Performance-Based National Detention Standards, which included a range of standards for the delivery of the highest levels of medical care. Frequent audits and independent reviews verified that ICDC closely adhered to all established protocols.”

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