Report: Healthcare Workers in Border Crisis Warned to Keep Mum
Healthcare workers were threatened with arrest if they talked publicly about rampant contagious diseases affecting children housed at a Texas refugee camp after the children were caught sneaking across the border, Fox News reports.
A government-contracted security force takes cellphones from working doctors and nurses and threatens them with arrest if they talk about children sick with illnesses including strep throat, measles, chicken pox, scabies, lice and mental health problems, a psychiatric counselor and a nurse told Fox News.
"There were several of us who wanted to talk about the camps, but the agents made it clear we would be arrested," the counselor said. "We were under orders not to say anything."
A former nurse at the camp told Fox News the situation is intolerable.
"They're going to crush the system," the nurse said of the flood of children crossing illegally at the nation's southern border. "We can't sustain this. They are overwhelming the system, and I think it's a travesty."
More than 52,000 unaccompanied children, most from Central America, have been apprehended entering the U.S. illegally since October.
At Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, where some children have been housed, a security force from Baptist Family & Children's Services was hired by the Department of Health and Human Services to work at the camp, Fox News noted.
Dressed in tan shirts, the force refers to itself as the "brown shirts," Fox reported.
"It was a very submissive atmosphere," the counselor said. "Once you stepped onto the grounds, you abided by their laws — the brown-shirt laws. Everyone was paranoid. The children had more rights than the workers."
The counselor decried the "atmosphere in terms of health," saying: "I would be talking to children and lice would just be climbing down their hair."
The nurse said there were so many children pouring into the camp, "there was no way to control all of the sickness — all this stuff coming into the country. We were very concerned at one point about strep going around the base."
Yet authorities mostly worried about keeping things out of the public eye, they alleged.
"When they found out the kids had scabies, the charge nurse was adamant — 'Don't mention that. Don't say scabies,'" the nurse said. "But everybody knew they had scabies. Some of the workers were very concerned about touching things and picking things up. They asked if they should be concerned, but they were told don't worry about it."
"You could see the bugs crawling through their hair," she added. "After we would rinse out their hair, the sink would be loaded with black bugs."
The counselor said officials at Lackland were so uncaring about the children's mental health that they even refused to hospitalize children who were suicidal.
"I made a recommendation that a child needed to be sent to a psychiatric unit," the counselor said. "He was reaching psychosis. He was suicidal. Instead of treating him, they sent him off to a family in the United States."
The counselor quit, Fox News reported, but she kept a journal about her work at the camp, and refused to hand it over to federal agents when they asked her to.
"When people read that journal, they are going to be astonished," she said. "I don't think they will believe what is going on in America."
Baptist Family & Children's Services spokeswoman Krista Piferrer told Fox News that the agency takes "any allegation of malfeasance or inappropriate care of a child very seriously."
"There are a number of checks and balances to ensure children are receiving appropriate and adequate mental health care," she said.
She added that clinicians are supervised by a federal field specialist from HHS' Office of Refugee Resettlement, and that the children's services agency has 58 medical professionals at Lackland.
"Every illness, whether it is a headache or something more serious, is recorded in a child's electronic medical record and posted on WebEOC — a real-time, web-based platform that is visible to not only BFCS but the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services," the spokeswoman said.