Report: Women at immigration detention center pressured into unneeded surgeries

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees exercising during a recreation period at the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla. CURTIS COMPTON/ccompton@ajc.com
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees exercising during a recreation period at the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla. CURTIS COMPTON/ccompton@ajc.com

South Georgia gynecologist at center of controversy denies wrongdoing

Women held in a South Georgia immigration detention center were referred to a gynecologist for problems unrelated to their reproductive health and were pressured to undergo unnecessary surgeries, according to a group of medical experts reviewing their complaints.

The five-page report says the gynecologist who performed the procedures did not inform the patients of risks, benefits or alternatives before operating. Some of the women said they did not consent to the procedures, which in some cases left them unable to bear children. Several women who refused surgery were later referred for psychiatric treatment, the report says.

The medical team — nine obstetrician-gynecologists and two nursing experts — reviewed more than 3,200 pages of records for 19 female detainees who alleged mistreatment at the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla. All the doctors are affiliated with academic medical centers, including those at Vanderbilt University, Northwestern University and Creighton University.

Working with pro bono attorneys, the doctors reviewed the records at the request of the patients. Members of Congress were briefed on the findings Thursday. The review came after a coalition of advocacy groups filed a federal whistleblower complaint last month for a former nurse at Irwin.

“Our findings reveal a disturbing pattern that warrants further investigation: one in which many women either underwent abdominal surgery or were pressured to have a surgery that was not medically indicated and to which they did not consent,” the report says.

The Los Angeles Times first reported on the document Thursday.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined to comment, citing an ongoing investigation by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General. The inspector general’s office and the company that operates the detention center, Louisiana-based LaSalle Corrections, did not respond to requests for comment.

The physicians' report says Dr. Mahendra Amin, who practices in Ocilla and in nearby Douglas, performed a transvaginal ultrasound “without any clear indication for doing so” on a 36-year-old woman who complained of rib pain. He nevertheless scheduled the woman for two surgical procedures: a dilation and curettage and a laparoscopy. Amin also performed a cystectomy and another surgical procedure to remove tissue from a 28-year-old woman’s uterus without her consent, the report says. And he diagnosed a 37-year-old woman with uterine fibroids and “later performed a hysterectomy for another indication," the report says. "Formal pathology did not show fibroids.”

Amin treated women from the detention center from 2017 until this fall, when detainees’ complaints about him went public. He has denied wrongdoing.

Amin performed many of the procedures at Irwin County Hospital in Ocilla. A company that he owns managed the hospital from 1996 until 2015. That year, the hospital paid a $520,000 civil penalty after whistleblowers accused Amin and other doctors of systematically billing Medicare and Medicaid for unnecessary diagnostic tests.

The report does not speculate on a motivation for performing unnecessary procedures on detainees.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently reported that Amin has repeatedly faced financial and legal pressures in his medical practice and in other business ventures. He settled at least two malpractice lawsuits in recent years, each of which accused him of neglecting a pregnant woman in crisis. In one case, a mother died; in the other, a baby.

In a statement Friday, Amin’s lawyer, Scott Grubman, suggested the doctors who reviewed the detainees' medical treatment lacked complete information and denied the women did not consent to procedures.

"Only four ICE detainees have ever requested medical records from Dr. Amin’s office, and only five ICE detainees have ever requested records from the hospital,” Grubman said. “Any serious medical professional would agree that one cannot possibly come to a conclusion regarding the appropriateness of a medical procedure without reviewing all of the relevant medical records, especially the records from the physician who performed the procedure and the hospital where the procedure was performed.”

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