Inquiry after [8 year old] girl’s death reports unsafe medical care in U.S. border facilities - The Washington Post

A Department of Homeland Security medical team investigating the recent death of an 8-year-old girl in South Texas told U.S. border officials that their system of care for migrants is unsafe and needs a major overhaul, according to an internal memo obtained by The Washington Post.

The June 8 memo from DHS acting chief medical officer Herbert O. Wolfe said the Border Patrol station where Anadith Reyes Álvarez and her family were held “lacked sufficient medical engagement and accountability to ensure safe, effective, humane and well-documented medical care.”

The child was not treated by a doctor despite worsening flu symptoms, a fever that reached 104.9 degrees and a medical history of sickle cell disease and heart problems. After eight days in U.S. custody, Anadith had a seizure and died May 17.

Wolfe’s memo to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) acting commissioner Troy Miller describes an ad hoc system with little ability to manage medical records, poor communication among staff and a lack of clear guidelines for seeking help from doctors outside the border agency.

A separate internal investigation into Anadith’s death is being conducted by CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility, but it has been complicated by a lack of closed-circuit video footage from inside the Harlingen station. The camera system was flagged for repair in mid-April but was not fixed until nearly a week after Anadith’s death, according to CBP records.

Anadith’s death prompted CBP to remove chief medical officer David Tarantino last week and place U.S. border facilities under the supervision of DHS medical officials and a team of uniformed doctors from the U.S. Public Health Service. Doctors from the Health Service have deployed to CBP facilities along the border to help provide care and make recommendations for additional improvements, according to CBP’s Miller.

CBP has told its medical contractor, Loyal Source Government Services, to “take immediate action to review practices and quality assurance plans to ensure appropriate care,” Miller wrote in the response. “These are only the first of many steps that CBP will take to address the issues you raised.”

Border officials say they have raised their standards of care in recent years amid record numbers of crossings by migrant families and children whose needs are ill-suited to holding cells that were designed for adults.

CBP is supposed to transfer migrants from those holding cells to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or another agency within 72 hours. The agency has not developed the kind of medical record-keeping and case-management system used by ICE and other federal agencies that hold detainees long-term.

Federal records show Loyal Source Government Services received a $408 million medical services contract from CBP in 2020.

Anadith was the second minor to die in U.S. government custody within a one-week span. A 17-year-old Honduran boy died May 10 while staying at a shelter in Florida for minors who cross the border without their parents.

Crossings have fallen 70 percent since then, the latest CBP data show. Miller told Wolfe his agency has reduced the average amount of time families with minor children are held in custody to fewer than 30 hours, and CBP is processing families with minor children “as expeditiously as possible” to move them out of border facilities.

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The Washington Post

Locations: Florida Texas 

Organizations: United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) United States Public Health Service Loyal Source Government Services United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) 

People: Anadith Reyes Álvarez Herbert Wolfe Troy Miller David Tarantino 

Tags: Migration and Immigration Public Health 

Type: Headlines