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DHS Calls for Overhauling Medical Care for Migrants After Death of Girl

A Department of Homeland Security medical team investigating the 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 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 medical history of sickle cell disease and heart problems. After eight days in custody, Anadith had a seizure and died on 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. The Harlingen border station where Anadith and her family were held, was designated by CBP for medical isolation cases and had a list of on-call doctors and pediatricians that was so rarely used it was “out of date,” according to Wolfe’s memo.


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. 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 who help provide care and make recommendations for additional improvements, according to CBP’s Miller. In response to the DHS memo, Miller told Wolfe the child’s death was “deeply upsetting and unacceptable.” Miller has ordered medically at-risk migrants transferred out of the Harlingen station, and the facility is no longer being used as an isolation unit. CBP is checking to make sure camera systems at its other facilities are operating properly, Miller said. 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 said. “These are only the first of many steps that CBP will take to address the issues you raised.”

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