ACLU report alleges improper medical care at Aurora ICE facility

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AURORA -- The ACLU is calling for accountability and oversight -- particularly from state lawmakers and agencies -- at the Aurora Contract Detention Facility, a privately run detention center for ICE detainees.

The civil rights group released a lengthy report alleging that inadequate and improper medical care at the facility has led to deaths and other devastating medical situations involving people in custody over the past several years.

One man had to have his leg amputated due to bed sores.

Kamyar Samimi died in 2017 after suffering from methadone withdrawal.

According to an autopsy report, the cause of death was undetermined, but the official reviewing his case could not rule out withdrawal.

"He was proud to be in this country," said Neda Samimi-Gomez, who remembered how much her father loved cars and cared for his children.

Samimi, originally from Iran, had been a lawful permanent resident in the U.S. for more than 40 years at the time of his death.

When ICE detained him, they said he could be deported for a 2005 drug conviction on his record.

A federal review of the case found deficiencies in his medical care at the ICE facility, operated by the GEO Group,  including failure to provide a proper medical assessment.  It also found medical personnel failed to administer his prescriptions properly to prevent the withdrawal.

ACLU officials called on state lawmakers and other agencies to step up with oversight.

One policy suggestion involved pushing the state health department to conduct regular audits and inspections that could be provided
to the public.

The ACLU also called for PERA, which provides state retirement and benefits to Colorado employees, to stop investing in private detention centers.

GEO Group statement

While we cannot comment on the specifics of the ACLU report (that was embargoed to reporters first), we recognize that the ACLU has a political position generally against public-private partnerships. 

In fact, last month (Aug. 5, 2019) in response to questions about the GEO Group and CoreCivic ACLU Policy Director Denise Maes testified to to Denver City Council, “We don’t really like each other so we don’t have a good relationship.” So, it’s not surprising its report would only confirm their political position.

As background, the Aurora ICE Processing Center has been operating in Aurora for over 30 years under both Republican and Democratic administrations. We’re held to the Performance-Based National Detention Standards and meet our accreditation standards.

That said, the Aurora ICE Processing Center has approximately 46 medical positions. GEO’s medical program at the facility provides 24/7 medical services and is supported by a team of medical professionals that includes a full-time physician, a full-time physician’s assistant, a cadre of nursing services, dentist, psychologist, psychiatrist, and additional medical specialists as well as referrals to local community hospitals as needed; and is fully accredited by the American Correctional Association and the National Commission on Correctional Healthcare.

Medical staff receive a total of 120 hours of training which includes 80 classroom hours and 40 hours of on the job training. Training topics include but are not limited to human rights training, HIPPA Training, suicide prevention and intervention, CPR, AED and First Aid training, counseling techniques, medication management, infection control, clinical orientation, and mental health awareness.

There are currently open positions that are in the process of being filled pending client approval, however, those positions are currently being covered on an interim basis by medical professionals with the same medical qualifications or higher. However, we’re facing the same challenges as the rest of the medical community with the national healthcare worker shortage.

In the event that the doctor is unavailable, the resident is transferred to the closets hospital, which is the Anschutz Medical Center down the street. GEO is currently is discussion with ICE to add an additional medical doctor to the established staffing plan. Approximately, 13 additional staff were added and include registered nurses, licensed nurse practitioners, a part-time physician’s assistant and psychologists, and a part-time dental assistant to accommodate the influx of undocumented immigrants crossing the Southern border.

Finally, GEO does have policies in place for the care and treatment of opioid withdrawal. These policies strictly comply with ICE’s Performance-Based National Detention Standards  on Substance Dependence and Detoxification which can be found here.

ICE statement

The Aurora Contract Detention Facility (ACDF) in Aurora, Colorado, is a humane, clean and professionally run detention center that was most-recently inspected in October by an independent third-party inspector. The results of that inspection found the facility to be in compliance with all 41 areas inspected. The ACDF operates in accordance with ICE’s 2011 Performance Based National Detention Standards – the agency’s highest. The ACLU’s allegations simply are not substantiated by numerous other inspections that have found the facility to operate fully in compliance with federal law and agency policy.

Here’s the report, which is publicly available on the agency website.

Any fatality in ICE custody is tragic, and our staff takes all efforts to prevent fatalities. However, aliens enter ICE custody from countries around the world, and many have never been treated by a doctor or dentist prior to entering ICE custody. Although regrettable, fatalities in ICE custody occur at a tiny fraction of the national average for detained populations in federal or state custody. In its more than 30 years of operation, two detainee deaths have occurred at the Aurora Contract Detention Facility, while the facility has maintained custody of tens of thousands of detainees.

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