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Whistleblower report alleges shoddy medical care for detained migrants

A Customs and Border Protection (CBP) employee acting as a whistleblower says the company responsible for health care of migrants under detention at the border mismanaged hundreds of millions of federal dollars and provided subpar services.

The report filed by the Government Accountability Project, an advocacy group, on behalf of CBP employee Troy Hendrickson, also says officials skirted their oversight duties. And Hendrickson alleges he was unlawfully retaliated against for trying to shed light on the problem.

Hendrickson told the House and Senate Homeland Security panels and the Senate Judiciary Committee that Loyal Source Government Services, a Florida-based company that’s the sole provider of medical care for people under CBP custody, failed to provide adequate medical services and was protected by CBP Office of Acquisition (OA) staff.

A CBP official said the agency “takes its obligations to investigate whistleblower allegations seriously” and will follow its established process to address the report.

“CBP remains committed to ensuring that contract oversight — and the procurement process writ large — are conducted correctly and with the utmost integrity and professionalism. The health and safety of individuals in our custody, our workforce, and communities we serve is a top priority. CBP is dedicated to the ongoing review and evaluation of our practices to ensure that all individuals in our custody receive the best care possible.”

In the complaint, Hendrickson alleged “severe understaffing by nearly 40% of medical staff needed to provide adequate care to noncitizens in CBP custody; medical providers working without proper clearances and/or medical licenses; payment of millions of dollars in deficient invoices; failures to maintain electronic medical records; breaches of personal identifying information of noncitizens in CBP custody; and allegations of sexual misconduct.”

Loyal Source did not respond to a request for comment.

CBP medical care has come under scrutiny, particularly after the May death of Anadith Danay Reyes Álvarez, an 8-year-old girl who CBP officials have since recognized could have been saved if she’d received proper medical attention. 

Hendrickson’s allegations also raise questions about the execution of CBP’s $421 million medical services contract with Loyal Source, a company that provides services to a host of federal agencies, including medical services to the Pentagon.

“The CBP employee whistleblower’s allegations raise serious concerns. As outlined in the report, it appears that CBP failed to hold Loyal Source accountable for unsupported invoicing, severe understaffing, unlicensed medical personnel, privacy breaches, and failure to report allegations of sexual harassment,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in a statement sent to The Hill.

“These systemic failures to conduct proper oversight of its contractor severely impacted the quality of medical care available to individuals in CBP’s custody, endangering vulnerable migrants such as Anadith Danay Reyes Álvarez, an 8-year-old girl with sickle cell and congenital heart disease who died in CBP custody in Harlingen, Texas, this May.” 

The complaint links the 8-year-old’s death to both the alleged lapses in service quality and to Hendrickson’s claim that a CBP official identified as Contract Officer 1 (CO 1) was carrying water for Loyal Source.

For a period, Hendrickson reported both to the OA as a contract office representative — a key role in oversight of government contractors — and the newly created Office of the Chief Medical Officer (OCMO).

The double duty “left him vulnerable to the tensions that arose between these components over disagreements in holding Loyal Source accountable for the contractor’s underperformance and non-adherence to medical standards.”

Hendrickson, a 14-year CBP veteran, raised several issues with CO 1 and with officials in the OCMO, resulting in CO 1 removing Hendrickson from duties supervising the medical services contract in April 2022.

“Tragically, a year after Mr. Hendrickson was removed from the COR position, on May 17, 2023, 8-year-old Anadith Reyes Alvarez died while detained in a CBP facility after her mother’s repeated pleas for medical care to Loyal Source staff,” reads the report. 

“Had Mr. Hendrickson’s and his OCMO colleagues’ concerns about Loyal Source been addressed in 2021 or 2022, Anadith might still be alive.”

The death led to the reassignment of then-Chief Medical Officer David Tarantino, who according to the complaint butted heads with CO 1 over management of the contract.

“CBP has undertaken significant steps to ensure that individuals at elevated in-custody medical risk and family units receive the best possible care and spend the minimum amount of time possible in CBP custody,” said the CBP spokesperson.

“Importantly, CBP has brought new leadership into the Office of the Chief Medical Officer to drive necessary action across the agency. CBP will continue to review procedures, practices, and equipment to ensure that we are protecting those in our care.”

Tarantino, who was CBP’s first chief medical officer after the office was created in 2020, is portrayed in Hendrickson’s report as attempting to prioritize medical concerns, clashing with CO 1 and other officials’ prioritization of bureaucratic procedures.

At an April 2022 meeting that included CO 1 and another contract officer, Tarantino demanded changes to the Loyal Source contract, alleging “performance and budget issues.”

“CO 1’s response to CMO Tarantino’s concerns was to say that CO 1 and CO 2 were busy and needed time to review the documents for the recompete, and that they had problems with the documents as written,” reads the complaint. 

Hendrickson further alleged that CO 1 and CO 2 pushed back against requests such as adding the capacity to provide vaccinations, per “instruction from [Department of Homeland Security] superiors who wanted OCMO to have that capacity.”

“CO 1 additionally accused CMO Tarantino of trying to make the [Medical Services Contract] a personal services contract by including more granularity, accountability, oversight, and reporting.”

In the report’s footnotes, Hendrickson notes that Tarantino often encountered bureaucratic obstacles in his attempts to reassign funds.

“This was a recurring issue for CMO Tarantino. Due to Loyal Source’s understaffing rates, funds were left available in the OCMO budget. CMO Tarantino wished to access those funds to respond to urgent needs for new medical sites or increased staffing, but CO 1 insisted that a new pool of money be requested for any contract modification.”

Three days after the “tumultuous” and “hostile” meeting, CO 1 removed Hendrickson from his duties related to the Loyal Source contract.

“CO 1’s choice to retaliate against Mr. Hendrickson for his efforts to expose fraud, waste, mismanagement and abuse by both Loyal Source and the Office of Acquisition resulted not only in adverse consequences to Mr. Hendrickson, but also to an eight-year-old girl and her family,” reads the complaint.

“Worse, Loyal Source Government Services continues to be responsible for the provision of medical care for noncitizens in CBP custody despite these failures of performance for which current Office of Acquisition officials overseeing the Medical Services Contract have failed to hold them accountable, costing taxpayers millions of dollars and endangering lives.”

Updated at 5:33 p.m.

Source: The Hill

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