- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2018

In the ongoing crisis of immigrant children at the border, a Texas pediatrician is raising the alarm over a lack of adequate medical care and medications for those detained by and under the protection of the U.S. government.

Dr. Aaron Bodansky, a senior pediatric resident with Texas Children’s Hospital, said he waited outside the Ursula detention center in McAllen, Texas, for three days trying to get access to the facility and ask about who is providing medical care and their qualifications.

“My primary goal was to help get non-governmental pediatric professional medical oversight to understand what’s occurring inside the facility,” he said during a conference call Wednesday with reporters.

“I never got any answers to my first question which is: Who is providing the medical care and are there any pediatricians in there? A government source did confirm to me that, as of two nights ago, there were no pediatricians,” he said.

The Ursula detention center has been described as the “epicenter” of the former Trump administration border-enforcement policy of separating migrant children from their parents who enter the U.S. illegally. Over 11,000 unaccompanied children are being housed in detention facilities across the country, with over 2,000 of them having been separated from their parents since early May under the Trump administration’s now-rescinded “zero-tolerance” policy for illegal border crossings.



As of last week, an estimated 1,174 children are reported to be in Ursula, according to NBC News.

It’s unclear what medical services are provided inside the facilities, Dr. Bodansky said.

The children “need help now, the only medical clinic they have access to once they leave, which is the first time we have any non-government oversight, is a small Catholic charity but it’s been staffed for the last four days by pre-med students,” he said.

“When I walked in they were shocked that a pediatrician even appeared. They haven’t had any doctors, they have access to no antibiotics, they’re getting a large amount of children coming through their doors every day, immediately, from these centers, with easily preventable but serious medical conditions,” Dr. Bodansky said.

These include children who are dehydrated, have diaper rashes, fevers, coughs and ear infections, to name a few. The fear is that left untreated, these infections and bacteria can spread and create worse health issues for everybody.

“The kids I’m seeing, they’re not sick enough that I felt like they needed immediate attention by sending them to an emergency room necessarily. But they definitely need access to medical care,” he said. “There’s simple things that makes me think there’s inadequate care being given.”

Michelle Bran, director of the Migrant Rights and Justice Program at the Women’s Refugee Commission, said that when she visited the Ursula detention center last week she saw children of similar ages changing diapers and parents distressed over whether their children are receiving needed medications.

“What I observed and heard from both parents and children very clearly indicates a lack of appropriate medical care,” she said on the conference call about her tours of both Ursula and Customs and Border Protection facilities holding the parents.

“I would also state that in my past observations in monitoring family detention centers, medical care and lack of appropriate medical care has been a common, common complaint,” Ms. Bran said.

Mental health issues are also a concern among medical professionals and child welfare advocates, who say that the trauma and stress of the children’s journey is compounded by being taken away from the relative safety of their parents’ care, and exacerbated by new surroundings and an unknown future.

“Even short periods of detention can cause psychological trauma and long-term mental health risks for children,” said Dr. Olanrewaju Falusi, a general pediatrician with Children’s National Health System in Washington, who also spoke on the call.

“Studies have shown that children display signs of physical and emotional distress when they’re detained,” Dr. Falusi said. “This includes: regression in their development, poor psychological adjustment, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation and other behavioral problems.”

The *Ursula center is run by the Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection. Unaccompanied children detained at the border can be transferred to one of nearly 100 facilities that fall under the auspices of the Office of Refugee and Resettlement, part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

A media representative in the office responding to inquiries by email, provided the office’s website to answer questions about medical services available to detained children. On average, children can spend up to 52 days in these shelters before being transferred to the care of a parent or relative in the U.S. while waiting for their asylum case to be resolved, according to a report by ProPublica. Children without support can stay longer.

These include that ORR facilitates and funds routine medical and dental care; family-planning services, including pregnancy tests and comprehensive information about and access to medical reproductive health services and emergency contraception; emergency health services; complete medical examination; immunizations; medications and appropriate mental health interventions.

* (Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said the Ursula detention center falls under the responsibility of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. It is under the control of the Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection.)

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