Welcome to the latest edition of Investigative Roundup, highlighting some of the best investigative reporting on healthcare each week.
ICE Hysterectomies Questioned
A whistleblower is alleging medical neglect and excessive hysterectomies performed on detained women at an immigrant detention center in Georgia, according to a complaint filed with the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general.
Dawn Wooten, LPN, charged that Irwin County Detention Center, operated by LaSalle Corrections, didn’t test detained immigrants for COVID-19 even if they were exposed or symptomatic.
She also noted an ob/gyn from outside the facility performed many surgeries on women from the center, concerned that “everybody’s uterus cannot be that bad,” she said.
“Everybody he sees has a hysterectomy — just about everybody,” Wooten said in the complaint. “He’s even taken out the wrong ovary on a young lady [detained immigrant woman]. She was supposed to get her left ovary removed because it had a cyst on the left ovary; he took out the right one. She was upset. She had to go back to take out the left and she wound up with a total hysterectomy.”
“She still wanted children — so she has to go back home now and tell her husband that she can’t bear kids,” Wooten said. “She said she was not all the way out under anesthesia and heard him [the doctor] tell the nurse that he took the wrong ovary.”
The name of the ob/gyn was not mentioned in the complaint.
During a press briefing Tuesday, Wooten said she became a whistleblower because, as a single mom to five kids and as someone with underlying conditions — she has sickle cell disease — she was concerned about catching COVID-19. She says she was demoted and ultimately let go on July 2 because she started raising questions as to why the facility wasn’t being more proactive about keeping COVID-19 under control.
Wooten is represented by the Government Accountability Project and Project South, and a handful of other advocacy groups — Georgia Detention Watch, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, and the South Georgia Immigrant Support Network — signed onto the complaint.
Spying on George Floyd’s Health Records
Employees of Hennepin Healthcare looked at George Floyd’s medical records on multiple occasions without permission, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
The hospital told the newspaper that the employees are no longer with the hospital, but it would not say if they were fired or if they left voluntarily. It also gave no further details as to what kinds of records were accessed or which employees accessed them.
Floyd’s attorneys said the hospital informed his family of the data breach in a letter.
“When George Floyd was desperate for a breath, the city of Minneapolis pushed on his neck further,” Chicago-based law firm Romanucci & Blandin said in a statement. “And even after death, he was abused and mistreated by the system. Shameful.”
Floyd died in police custody on May 25, and police officer Derek Chauvin was charged with second-degree manslaughter in his death. Three other officers who were involved were charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.
Hospital-Acquired COVID Rates
More than 7,400 patients likely caught COVID-19 inside U.S. hospitals where they were being treated for other illnesses from mid-May to mid-July, according to an analysis from the Wall Street Journal.
The newspaper obtained previously unpublished data from the CDC for their analysis, noting that data from after mid-July were unavailable because the government stopped asking for it due to larger changes to its data collection system.
On average, 120 patients a day became infected with COVID-19 inside U.S. hospitals during that time, but rates did appear to fall over those two months. For instance, the 7-day average of new cases fell from 120-150 per day in late May and early June to about 100 a day in July. Of all COVID-19 patients in hospitals, 2% acquired the infection there in mid-May, falling to 1.2% in mid-July, the Journal reported.
Infectious disease experts said the risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 in the hospital is small, and urged those who need medical attention not to avoid hospitals out of fear. Indeed, a recent study in JAMA found only two cases of hospital-acquired COVID-19 infection among more than 9,000 patients treated at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston from early March to the end of May.
Politico‘s Blockbuster Scoops
Washington, D.C.-based Politico had a stellar week of healthcare scoops: uncovering Trump administration attempts to put words in NIAID Director Anthony Fauci’s mouth and meddle with a CDC scientific journal, and revealing ongoing tension between the heads of HHS and FDA. It also got advance access to a congressional report on CMS chief Seema Verma’s consulting contracts, which Politico itself had sparked.
Politico obtained emails that showed Paul Alexander, a senior adviser to HHS assistant secretary for public affairs Michael Caputo, weighed in on what Fauci should say during interviews with the press, on topics ranging from school reopenings to convalescent plasma.
Another report showed that CDC officials have increasingly allowed HHS communications aides to review studies being published in Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report, and in some cases they compromised on wording. Political appointees in HHS complained that reports written by staff scientists would undermine the president’s optimistic messages about the outbreak.
Politico also found that HHS Secretary Alex Azar pressured FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn to abandon efforts to regulate lab-developed tests, culminating in late August when HHS said the FDA won’t require premarket review for such tests. “At some points the dispute was so intense that it boiled over into screaming matches between Azar and Hahn,” the news outlet reported.
Finally, Politico detailed results of a congressional investigation into how Verma spent more than $3.5 million on GOP-connected consultants. That included a “Girl’s Night” for nearly $3,000, almost $1,000 on an op-ed for Fox News, and more than $13,000 on promoting Verma to win awards and participate in high-profile panels. Politico first broke the story in March 2019.