Death in Detention for Two with Diabetes

An immigrant advocacy group has published a new report of 18 deaths that have occurred of immigrants in detention, including two with diabetes.

In May 2017, the immigrant advocacy group Human Rights Watch published a 105-page report alleging substandard medical care resulting in the death of immigrant detainees in detention facilities from 2012 to 2015. To compile the report, the advocacy group hired Dr. Marc Stern and Dr. Allen Keller, two correctional health experts, to review records released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of the deaths of 18 individuals in detention. The two found that seven of the deaths likely resulted from substandard care.

Two of the seven deaths that were allegedly due to substandard care involved immigrant detainees with diabetes:

  1. Manuel Cota-Domingo entered Eloy Detention Center-CCA with a plastic bag full of diabetes medicine, but it was stored with the rest of his property and not given to any nurses or doctors. Dr. Stern and Dr. Keller believe that his death from untreated diabetes and pneumonia was likely preventable. His death was caused by failures of the detention facility staff to make diagnoses, in combination with extensive delays in response to Domingo’s condition, they say. After Domingo first experienced trouble breathing, it took the facility staff more than eight hours to finally send him to the hospital, for example. “Each delay – getting out of the cell, getting an initial medical assessment, and going to the hospital by van – all added to the overall delay which made a probably reversible condition fatal,” Dr. Stern stated.
  2. Marjorie Annmarie Bell died from a combination of sudden cardiac arrest, acute coronary syndrome, and multivessel coronary artery disease. Upon arriving at the Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center (SCVMC), Bell spoke of her chronic diabetes and history of heart disease. She had just recently undergone a cardiac procedure before detention. For almost two months, Bell’s condition worsened as facility staff looked in the opposite direction. Dr. Stern notes that Bell “informed nurses on six separate occasions that she was having chest pain, and on none of those occasions did a nurse contact a physician or call an ambulance.” Dr. Stern and Dr. Keller found that the incompetence of the facility staff to address Bell’s complaints of chest pain and previous medical history ultimately caused her to experience a fatal heart attack.

Human Rights Watch also highlighted the case of another immigrant, referred to as “Jose L.” in the report. The detainee complained of loss of vision and severe pain in his right eye, which was deemed to be caused by proliferative diabetic retinopathy. It took over a month for Jose L. to be seen by a retinal specialist, and he lost vision in his right eye. The report concluded that the detention facility failed to act in a timely fashion, even when the facility doctor wrote in a request that Jose L. “needs retinal specialist ASAP.”

The report states that Human Rights Watch provided a copy of the report to ICE officials, but has yet to receive comment; Ahtna Technical Services, one of the companies in charge of the facilities, also did not comment. Another company, GEO Group, disputed the report, saying that two of the deaths that occurred at a facility it now controls happened before the company took over management of that facility; a company official also stated that a detainee who died whose case was highlighted by the report for inadequate care did receive proper care. A third company, CoreCivic/CCA, stated that it was not directly responsible for detainee medical care, and that all inquiries to detainee health should be directed to ICE.

Craig Idlebrook contributed to this story.

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Ian is a student at Union College, majoring in Political Science with a concentration in renewable energy and government policy. He enjoys writing, traveling, and following the inspiring stories of the sports world.

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