‘I can’t handle this:’ Doctors treating migrants on the border are walking out

By | July 12, 2019

EL PASO, Texas — Two contracted doctors who had been serving inside overcrowded Border Patrol facilities in the El Paso, Texas, region have walked off the job in separate incidents since late May, two Border Patrol union officials have confirmed to the Washington Examiner.

“The situation became so overwhelming, they just quit,” said Wesley Farris, second vice president of the National Border Patrol Council’s El Paso chapter.

Farris said an agent assigned to the Santa Teresa Station in southeastern New Mexico reached out to the union following one walk-out, asking when they would be getting a new doctor.

“An agent texted the union and said, ‘Hey, is there any plan to get us a new doctor?’” Farris said. “‘The agents start texting me like, ‘Hey man, the doctor quit so what do we do?’”

The local union took the information and looked into what had happened. Agents at the station relayed to the union that the doctor had left in the middle of looking over migrants in custody.

“The doctor just left. Got up and left. He was just like, ‘This is too much. This is too much. I can’t handle this,’” Farris said. “Was probably like, ‘I’m a doctor. I don’t need to be in here.’

“When you see that, you’re like, ‘This is bad. It must be bad,’” he continued.

The Washington Examiner tracked down the first doctor, a woman named Raquel. The doctor did not respond to several phone calls asking for comment about the conditions that prompted her to leave.

The second incident involved a doctor contracted at El Paso Station on Gateway South Boulevard in El Paso, according to NBPC Vice President Joe Frescas, who is also based in El Paso.

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A senior Border Patrol official in El Paso said the walk-offs were medical personnel supplied through a contractor, not Coast Guard medical staff who were deployed to the border and would have been deemed AWOL for having left their jobs.

Most of the Border Patrol’s 11 stations in El Paso have medical personnel on site who are either contracted, Coast Guard, or trained agents. The average station has one doctor and two to three nurses, the union said.

Farris complained the El Paso region’s management has done too little proactively to keep both agents and migrants in good health following breakouts of flu, lice, scabies, measles, and other breakouts.

“The Border Patrol sector’s response to a lot of this is, ‘Buy cases of hand sanitizer. Buy crates of face masks.’ And slowly now we’re getting contract medical contractors in here,” he said.

Farris said senior Border Patrol officials should bring in experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to screen people to ensure people in custody are getting adequate care and working conditions for agents are as safe as possible.

“If they can go and set up multimillion-dollar operations in Africa, why are they just kind of like poking us down here?” said Farris. “We are not equipped at all and I would argue that, you could see from the doctor walking out, the contractors are not really equipped to deal with this.”