July 22, 2024

Doctors Advocate for Increased Reporting of Medical Care in Immigration and Customs Enforcement Detention Centers

A recent study led by Dr. Annette Dekker, an assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at UCLA, highlights the need for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers to improve their reporting of health outcomes for detained immigrants. The study, published in JAMA Network Open, examined data from various sources and revealed discrepancies in the quality of medical care between reports from emergency medical services (EMS) and ICE.

The objective of the study was to address concerns about the adequacy of medical care received by individuals detained by ICE, expanding on previous research that focused on deaths in ICE detention centers. Dr. Dekker and her colleagues aimed to gain a better understanding of how ICE manages medical emergencies.

To conduct the study, the researchers collaborated with EMS agencies to gather data from 911 calls at three out of five detention centers in California that exclusively house detained immigrants from 2018 to 2022. They also analyzed data from ICE and the California Department of Justice (CA DOJ).

The researchers encountered challenges in obtaining relevant data to study medical emergencies, mainly due to limited reporting by ICE. Dr. Dekker compared their situation to “looking at a box and trying to interpret a few rays of light that are coming out of it” instead of simply opening the lid to see inside.

The study discovered that ICE reported more medical emergencies requiring offsite care than what was reflected in EMS records. This inconsistency raises concerns about the medical care provided within these centers.

Notably, EMS records revealed a disproportionate occurrence of 911 calls for females in one of the detention centers, mainly due to pregnancy complications. These medical emergencies happened after ICE released a directive stating that pregnant individuals should not be detained in their facilities. Additionally, EMS records indicated fewer psychiatric emergencies than expected based on the number of mental health encounters, including suicide attempts, reported by ICE.

Dr. Dekker stated that ICE now provides less information about detainee healthcare compared to the four-year period covered by the study. Monthly censuses and facility inspection reports are no longer being released.

Dr. Dekker emphasized the importance of expanding the required reporting metrics, citing publicly funded health care systems such as Medicaid and Medicare, which have clear standards and rigorous data collection and reporting protocols. There is a pressing need to contextualize the situation and ensure that appropriate medical care is being provided in ICE detention centers.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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