“Ms. Wooten’s whistleblowing disclosures confirm what detained immigrants have been reporting for years: gross disregard for health and safety standards, lack of medical care, and unsanitary living conditions at Irwin,” said Priyanka Bhatt, an attorney for Project South, one of the advocacy groups, in a release Monday.
ICE didn’t immediately return a message from The Washington Post about the claims. ICE declined to comment in detail on the complaint to the Associated Press, but cast doubt on its use of anonymous testimony from detainees and former detainees to bolster Wooten’s allegations.
“In general, anonymous, unproven allegations, made without any fact-checkable specifics, should be treated with the appropriate skepticism they deserve,” the agency said in a statement to the Associated Press.
ICE has faced scrutiny over its handling of the novel coronavirus at detention centers, with the inspector general opening a probe into the agency’s practices in May. On Friday, The Washington Post reported that ICE had fueled a large covid-19 outbreak at a Virginia facility by flying detainees there to facilitate the deployment of ICE agents to Washington to quell protests.
“ICE epidemiologists have been tracking the outbreak, regularly updating infection prevention and control protocols, and issuing guidance to ICE Health Service Corps (IHSC) staff for the screening and management of potential exposure among detainees,” the agency said.
But Wooten says at the Georgia facility, there was widespread disregard for protecting staffers and inmates. The nurse worked at Irwin for three years over the course of separate stints, she told the Intercept, but was demoted in July to an on-call position with few hours — retaliation, she claims, for demanding stricter adherence to medical rules.
“They’re still not taking this seriously,” Wooten told the Intercept. “Enough was enough.”
The 27-page complaint filed Monday details a laundry list of alleged failures at the facility: Detainees ignored or denied tests despite having covid-19 symptoms; others who have tested positive being placed back in the general population; and officials fudging statics on the number of infections.
Staffers, Wooten said, were pressured to “work symptomatic and work positive as long as we had a mask on.” While ICE purchased two $14,000 rapid-test machines, she said, no nurses were ever trained to use them.
Detainees interviewed for the report said that social distancing was impossible and that everyone was given just one mask and no replacement.
“We’re in an open dorm room. Our beds are nothing but three feet apart,” an unnamed detainee said in the report. “Our toilets are about four feet apart with a little wall separating them.”
While ICE has reported just 42 cases and no deaths from covid-19 at Irwin, Wooten alleged those numbers are not accurate because officials have not been “reporting all these cases that are positive.”
In general, Wooten outlined a failed medical system at the facility. Nurses there routinely destroyed the paper requests detainees have to fill out to ask for medical help and made up vital signs for reports after failing to see patients, she alleged.
Wooten also said that female detainees at Irwin are given hysterectomies at an improbable rate — possibly without understanding what procedure they are receiving as most medical staffers don’t speak Spanish.
“These immigrant women, I don’t think they really, totally, all the way understand this is what’s going to happen depending on who explains it to them,” she said.
The report did not detail any detainees who said they had received a hysterectomy against their will; one woman anonymously quoted in the complaint said she was scheduled for the procedure without her consent but that it was canceled when she tested positive for covid-19.
Concerned by that allegation, Georgia state House Minority Leader Robert Trammell Jr. (D) sent a letter to Georgia’s medical and nursing boards on Monday asking them to suspend the licenses of any practitioners implicated by the complaint until a full investigation can be done.