ICE detainees complained about 'rough' treatment from Georgia doctor

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ATLANTA — For years, women at a South Georgia immigration jail talked about Dr. Mahendra Amin.

The gynecologist was “rough,” they said. His examinations could leave a bruise. And he had a way of turning a routine visit into surgical procedures that the women weren’t sure they needed.

“They didn’t understand their treatments,” said Elizabeth Matherne, an immigration attorney who represented several of the detainees. “Interpreters were not provided. They didn’t understand what he was doing to them.”

Now Amin is at the center of a whistleblower complaint that alleges inappropriate medical treatment of women in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody at the Irwin County Detention Center.

Based on second-hand information, the complaint claims an unusually high number of hysterectomies have been performed on detainees in the privately owned facility in Ocilla, nearly 200 miles south of Atlanta. A nurse who worked at the detention center also alleges the facility denied treatment to detainees with symptoms of COVID-19.

Amin, 59, was not identified by name in the complaint, filed with the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security. But his lawyer acknowledged Wednesday that Amin is the target of the allegations.

“Dr. Amin is a highly respected physician who has dedicated his adult life to treating a high-risk, underserved population in rural Georgia,” the lawyer, Scott Grubman, said in a statement. “We look forward to all of the facts coming out and are confident that, once they do, Dr. Amin will be cleared of any wrongdoing.”

Amin did not respond to requests for an interview. However, he told The Intercept, an online news site, that “everything is wrong” about the complaint.

Lawyers representing the whistleblower, Dawn Wooten, have released no documents supporting claims about hysterectomies. But her complaint quoted one detainee who said she knew five women who underwent the the procedure within a few weeks last fall.

When Wooten appeared at a news conference Tuesday, she spoke only about COVID-19 and took no questions from reporters. She has not responded to requests for an interview.

ICE said in a statement that only two detainees at Irwin County had undergone hysterectomies since 2018.

But lawyers familiar with the matter said Amin performed other procedures — such as removing ovaries and fallopian tubes — that still impacted women’s reproductive systems.

In 2018, several detainees complained that after routine pap smears, Amin told them they had ovarian cysts or fibroids that required surgery, said Matherne, the immigration lawyer. She described “multiple clients having similar situations” and said she notified officials at the detention center of the women’s complaints.

One of Matherne’s clients who experienced a miscarriage was in severe pain and had a fever after seeing Amin.

“She said she would rather suffer in pain than go back to that doctor,” Matherne said.

The Intercept reported that three detainees said Amin had performed at least 20 hysterectomies over six years. One said that while Amin was excising a cyst from her ovary, he removed part of a fallopian tube without her consent. The Intercept did not identify the detainees.

Amin practices medicine in Ocilla and in nearby Douglas, where he recently received approval to operate an outpatient surgical center for women. He has no public disciplinary record with the state medical board but has settled at least two lawsuits accusing him of misconduct.

In 2004, Amin reached a confidential settlement with the husband of a 21-year-old patient who died shortly after giving birth four years earlier. A lawsuit said Amin admitted the woman to Irwin County Hospital in Ocilla after she complained of abdominal pain and early labor. But two days later, he allegedly told nurses to discharge the patient “despite life-threatening, abnormal lab values,” according to the court documents.

The woman gained 25 pounds in the next 24 hours from fluid buildup, the lawsuit said. Another physician performed an emergency cesarean delivery shortly before she died. In settling the case, Amin admitted no liability.

In 2013, two former X-ray technicians at the Ocilla hospital told federal authorities that Amin was part of a scheme to inflate billings to Medicaid and Medicare.

Amin owned a company that provided management services to the hospital and frequently referred patients there for his financial benefit, according to the complaint. He and other doctors allegedly left “standing orders” for expensive diagnostic tests for patients they never actually examined to determine if a treatment was medically necessary. Amin told nurses to perform an ultrasound on any pregnant woman seeking treatment at the hospital, regardless of her symptoms, the suit alleged. They usually billed Medicaid for the tests, court documents show, including at least two that were performed without medical necessity on pregnant women who had bronchitis.

The hospital’s chief executive did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Neither Amin nor the hospital admitted wrongdoing but settled the case by paying $520,000 in civil penalties. Amin continued seeing patients at the hospital — among them, women from the immigration detention center.

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©2020 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)