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Medical Negligence At ICE Detention Centers Lead To Death And Suicide

In a horrifying report titled “Fatal Neglect: How ICE Ignores Death In Detention” released Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union, Detention Watch Network, and National Immigrant Justice Center, facts seem to show that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency does not meet basic standards to sustain human life at their detainment centers.  The four non-profits examined 24 death reviews at ICE facilities and discussed how 8 of these deaths were caused by non-compliance with ICE medical standards.

The ACLU, DWN, and NIJC examined these death reports and findings from ICE’s own data obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request.

There have been 56 deaths in ICE custody during the Obama administration, including six suicides and at least one death after an attempted suicide. This report focuses on the eight deaths where ODO identified non-compliance with ICE medical standards as contributing causes; the ODO identified four of these deaths as preventable. However, this focus should not excuse several other cases in which ODO identified similar violations of ICE medical standards without drawing causal links between these violations and the deaths. The risks posed by substandard medical care will continue to endanger people detained in these facilities until the violations are corrected.

Reports of questionable deaths at ICE facilities are nothing new.   A 2008 Washington Post investigation found at least 30 deaths of 83 deaths between 2003 and 2008 to be questionable. When these cases were reviewed, medical records, internal investigations and consulting doctors found that the carelessness of medical staff had likely caused these 30 deaths.

Erica Eichelberger wrote for Vice:

Following an investigative series of articles on detainee deaths published by the New York Times in 2008 and 2009, the Obama administration implemented several reforms to the immigrant detention system. It mandated death reviews, created a new facility inspection process, and introduced stricter standards governing conditions at detention centers.

But Thursday’s report argues that these reforms aren’t strong enough to prevent unnecessary deaths. Even though ICE’s own reviews identified violations of medical protocols as contributing factors in these deaths, ICE detention facility inspections conducted before and after the deaths often did not even acknowledge those egregious medical mistakes. According to the report, ICE inspectors gave passing grades to all but one of the eight facilities before and after the deaths.

In the eight cases reviewed in detail in the “Fatal Neglect” report, institutions were found to have not trained their nurses on protocol for monitoring vital signs or to use life-saving equipment.  One patient had to wait 37 days to see a doctor after experiencing chronic rectal bleeding. One nurse waited an hour to call 911 after a doctor declared that the patient was having a code blue emergency heart attack because she was busy filling out his transfer paperwork.

A 54-year-old died of treatable cardiomyopathy after demanding treatment for four months.  A 35-year-old died of liver failure because of the facility’s failure to communicate critically important information, inadequate medical screenings, and inexcusable delays in referral to higher-level care. A 29-year-old died due to the negligence of dosing the correct amount of medication.

To prevent further loss of life, the report gives a list of critical recommendations to ICE.  Their recommendations are basic components of medical care. The report urges ICE detainment centers to meet heath care needs in a timely manner, refer individuals to higher-level medical care providers, adequately staff medical personnel, communicate critically important information between staff members about individuals’ medical conditions, adequately screen individuals for illnesses, and proactively identify and correct concerns about medical care found in facility inspections.

About Rebecca Lawrence

Rebecca Lawrence is a freelancer in Brooklyn, NY. She is owned by two blind cats. Tweet at her @rebeccalawrence

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