Ice detainees faced medical neglect and hysterectomies, whistleblower alleges

Nurse Dawn Wooten says she was demoted and reprimanded when she spoke out about practices at Georgia detention center

Immigrants in a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) detention center in Georgia are being subjected to horrific conditions and treatment, including “jarring medical neglect” and a high rate of hysterectomies among women, according to a whistleblower complaint filed by several legal advocacy groups on behalf of a nurse who works there.

The nurse, Dawn Wooten, has been practicing for more than 10 years, three of which she was employed at Irwin county detention center in Georgia, which is run by private corporation LaSalle Corrections. The complaint, filed on her behalf on 14 September, accused the center of negligence, including poor safety precautions surrounding Covid-19 and generally hazardous and unsanitary conditions.

Immigrants who spoke out against these conditions were regularly pushed into solitary confinement, the complaint said. Wooten says she was demoted and reprimanded when she spoke out about these practices, according to an interview with the Intercept.

The Intercept also reported that Wooten’s account was “bolstered by interviews with another current member of Irwin’s medical staff – who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation – and four people currently or recently detained there”.

According to the new complaint, Wooten reported an alarmingly high rate of hysterectomies – a surgery in which part or all of the uterus is removed – being performed on Spanish-speaking immigrants, many of whom did not appear to understand why they had undergone the procedure.

She said an off-site doctor supposedly performed the surgeries on women who complained of heavy menstrual cycles, but that many women seemed to not understand what had happened. In many cases nurses obtained consent from patients by “simply googling Spanish”, the complaint alleges.

“Everybody he sees has a hysterectomy – just about everybody,” Wooten said. “That’s his specialty, he’s the uterus collector. Everybody’s uterus cannot be that bad.”

The complaint also alleges health and safety violations related to the procedures. One woman said she was not properly anesthetized during a procedure and overheard the doctor say he had mistakenly removed the wrong ovary, rendering her unable to have children. Another went in to have a cyst drained and ultimately got a hysterectomy instead, the complaint said.

“When I met all these women who had had surgeries, I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp. It was like they’re experimenting with our bodies,” one detainee said, according to the complaint.

Project South, one of the human rights groups that filed the complaint, had previously filed a report in 2017 regarding Irwin’s poor treatment of detainees, including unsanitary conditions, inedible food and refusing medical care to detainees. “This place is not equipped for humans,” one detained immigrant at Irwin told Project South at the time.

To read the full story, go here.

Kari Paul