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Athens News Matters: Ossoff hearing follow-up

Senator Jon Ossoff

Nearly 100 undocumented women – maybe more – underwent unnecessary and invasive gynecological procedures at the hands of a doctor in a south Georgia detention facility. That is the stunning allegation from a US Senate report overseen by Georgia Senator Jon Ossoff. Isabela Weiss followed the hearing and has more. And a warning, some parts of this story may be disturbing to some listeners.

Undocumented women at a detention center in South Georgia endured gynecological abuse from Dr. Mahendra Amin, according to a shocking U.S. Senate report.

At a hearing held Tuesday, held by the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), former detainee and survivor, Karina Cisneros Preciado, said Amin made her feel subhuman.

“Before this experience, I had suffered from sexual assault before, as a child. So, this kind of -- the experience with Dr. Amin made me feel the same thing I felt. It made me feel like I had no control over my body. I had no say, no vote, no nothing,” Cisneros Preciado said.

Cisneros Preciado is one of at least 94 women subjected to medical abuse by Amin while in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the Irwin County Detention Center. Officials say Amin used invasive and unnecessary medical procedures in treating Irwin County inmates while contracted with ICE. Cisneros Preciado described her experience under Amin’s care.

“When Dr. Amin comes in, he doesn’t acknowledge me. He doesn’t say a word. He just sits in front of me and starts prepping for the procedure -- which he does not explain. Then, he just says ‘open your legs,’” said Cisneros Preciado.

What Karina Cisneros Preciado did not know at the time, is that Amin lied to her while she was under his care.

“Back when we get back to ICDC, I learned the story of many other women that Doctor Amin told the same thing too. They all had cysts on their ovaries. They all got shots and some of them even got surgeries,” said Cisneros Preciado.

Dr. Margaret Mueller, Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University, reviewed medical records of 19 women who say Amin abused them. She said Amin endangered his patients’ lives.

“In several cases, women actually had incorrect procedures performed by Dr. Amin. These incorrect procedures resulted in: Number One, a woman being inadequately treated for a cervical cancer; and Number Two, a reproductive-aged woman undergoing unnecessary removal of a significant portion of her cervix,” Mueller said.

According to Mueller, these women will likely need extensive medical care for the rest of their lives. Like Cisneros Preciado, Mueller told senators Amin disregarded his patients’ bodily autonomy.

“These unnecessary medical procedures were performed without an adequate consent,” Mueller said.

While Amin did not appear in front of the subcommittee, invoking his Fifth Amendment right, subcommittee members did hear from two doctors with oversight over Amin.

Senators grilled Dr. Stewart Smith, Assistant Director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Health Service Corps (IHSC) for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for negligence. Smith argued that ICE Health Services does not monitor privately contracted physicians, drawing a sharp response by subcommittee Chairman Senator Jon Ossoff.

“We do not monitor the direct patient care activities on an ongoing daily basis --” said Smith.

“That’s not my question,” Ossoff interjected. “My question is that you are responsible – this is the quote from the annual report – you are responsible personally for all administrative and operational elements of the IHSC Health Care System. And that includes the provision of health care to detainees at privately administered facilities.”

Besides failing to monitor Amin’s performance, Ossoff says Smith and ICE Health Services never reviewed Amin’s history before contracting him with Homeland Security.

“Were you aware at the time that you engaged [Amin’s] services that he'd been sued by the federal government in the state of Georgia for doing what it appears he did again working for you,” Ossoff asked Smith.

“No, we were not,” said Smith.

An angry Ossoff excoriated Smith, not only for a failure to vet Amin, but also for not taking responsibility for Amin’s actions towards ICE detainees.

“It’s disheartening,” Smith began.

“It’s disheartening?” Ossoff interjected.

“And it’s very disturbing,” Smith said. “We -- any responsibility we have we take very seriously. We want to fix this system, so it doesn’t happen again.”

“Dr. Smith, you have full responsibility. We’ve established that,” Ossoff interjected. “And this is worse than ‘disheartening.’”

Senators also questioned Dr. Pamela Hearn, Medical Director for LaSalle Corrections. LaSalle is responsible for on-site medical treatments at Irwin County Detention Center and reviews referrals and recommended treatments from outside specialists such as Amin.

Hearn only conducted a three-day review of the allegations against Amin.

“The three-day review was to go on site and review documents at the facility, discussions with the medical leadership, and with the unit leadership,” Hearn said.

Ossoff said Hearn’s review was insufficient.

“It took a team of professional investigators from both political parties here in the Senate 18 months, and consultation with a significant number of outside medical experts to go through 10s of thousands of pages of medical records in order for us to arrive at these conclusions,” Ossoff said.

While officials say that Hearn’s conduct was deficient, it was ICE Health Services that contracted Amin to work with LaSalle. Ossoff said Smith and ICE Health Services failed the nation by employing Amin.

“Unnecessary surgeries performed on prisoners? Give me a break. It is an abject failure, Dr. Smith. It’s a disgrace to the Federal Government,” Ossoff said.

Homeland Security is in the process of reviewing ICE Health Services and Smith.