Bipartisan Senate report finds medical mistreatment of women in detention centers

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

A bipartisan Senate report found that women at a Georgia detention center were abused through “unnecessary gynecological procedures,” sometimes without their consent, by a doctor who was allegedly improperly vetted. 

The 18-month investigation, conducted by the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), revealed the findings in a hearing Tuesday. 

The subcommittee recorded the experiences of more than 70 witnesses and reviewed more than 541,000 pages of records from the U.S. government; the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC), where the abused women are detained; LaSalle Corrections, which owns ICDC; and Irwin County Hospital. 

The lawmakers found that detainees in Georgia were subjected to “excessive” and “invasive” gynecological surgeries and procedures by a Department of Homeland Security-contracted doctor named Mahendra Amin.

A woman named Karina Cisneros Preciado was detained in ICDC from July 3, 2020, to Jan. 12, 2021, after she called law enforcement on her daughter’s father, who she alleged was abusing her.

During her detention, Preciado said she was taken to see Amin. During her appointment, she testified, she was chained at the wrist, ankles and waist. 

She was expecting a Pap smear but was instead subjected to a vaginal ultrasound and told by Amin she had an ovarian cyst. 

“He said he was going to give me a shot to try to dissolve the cyst, and if the cyst did not dissolve in a few weeks, I would need surgery,” Preciado testified. “I did not have a chance to ask questions or say no. I had to get dressed and was handcuffed again. The nurse then gave me the shot, without anyone explaining what it was, and I had to sign a paper.”

As a result of this experience, said Preciado, she gained weight and her hormones were “out of control.” She currently has a lawsuit pending against Amin.

Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), chairman of the subcommittee, called the results of the report “disturbing.”

“This is an extraordinarily disturbing finding and, in my view, represents a catastrophic failure by the federal government to respect basic human rights,” said Ossoff at Tuesday’s hearing.

The report, Ossoff said, found that Amin scheduled surgeries for women despite nonsurgical options that were available and performed unnecessary injections and treatments. He also often proceeded without informed consent, the report alleges. 

Between 2017 and 2020, Amin accounted for 6.5 percent of all off-site OB-GYN visits for all Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees nationwide.

In that same period, according to ICE statistics reported by PSI, Amin performed 82 percent of all dilation and curettage surgeries, 93 percent of all contraceptive injections, and 94 percent of all laparoscopic surgeries performed on the entire ICE detainee population nationwide.

PSI’s report alleges the Department of Homeland Security did not fully vet Amin before appointing him to facilities. 

The subcommittee also reported Amin was sued by the Department of Justice and the state of Georgia in 2013 for Medicaid fraud and violating the federal Anti-Kickback Statute and Georgia Medicaid policies.

Amin paid $520,000 to resolve the Medicaid fraud allegations, according to the report. 

Amin declined an interview with the subcommittee, which issued a subpoena. He has since invoked his Fifth Amendment right to not testify.

Stewart Smith, assistant director of the ICE Health Service Corps; Pamela Hearn, medical director of LaSalle Corrections; and Joseph Cuffari, inspector general, all testified at Tuesday’s hearing. 

In his written statement, Smith said ICE was informed of the allegations of forced medical treatments by a whistleblower. At that time, he said, these allegations were not proved, but ICE “took immediate steps” to stop sending patients in its custody to that provider. 

Meanwhile, Hearn said in her statement that LaSalle, which owns and operates ICDC, was not involved in vetting and credentialing any off-site providers, including Amin. 

But, Hearn added, when she was made aware of the allegations of medical mistreatment in September 2020, she “immediately conducted a focus-driven, after-incident review of all gynecological surgeries” in ICDC since 2017. 

Those results, she testified, “confirmed transparency in clinical decisionmaking” and “indicated no nefarious trends concerning off-site care,” among other findings.

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