Border Agency Medical Officer Reassigned After Child’s Death in Officials’ Custody
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has removed its chief medical officer from his position after an 8-year-old girl died in the agency’s custody last month.
The medical officer, David Tarantino Jr., has been temporarily reassigned, according to a Homeland Security official who was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
Why It Matters: The agency is changing its medical leadership.
Dr. Tarantino is the first C.B.P. employee whom the agency has publicly acknowledged faced action in the internal investigation into the girl’s death. The child had been seen by medical professionals 11 times while she was in custody before she was taken to a hospital where she died. Dr. Tarantino could not be immediately reached for comment.
The Washington Post reported earlier Dr. Tarantino’s reassignment. The border agency has previously been criticized for its treatment of migrants in custody.
Background: Medical personnel ignored troubling signs.
The Customs and Border Protection Office of Professional Responsibility has been investigating the death of the child, Anadith Danay Reyes Álvarez, a Panamanian national, who had significant pre-existing health conditions before she was apprehended with her family at the Texas border last month.
Over a three-day period, medical staff members examined Anadith nine times, according to preliminary findings in the internal investigation. No one contacted an on-call pediatrician. A nurse practitioner dismissed Anadith’s mother’s multiple requests to call an ambulance or go to the hospital.
Dr. Tarantino is the first person at the agency to hold the title of chief medical officer, which was created in 2020. He helped to expand the medical care provided to people in the border agency’s custody.
In a podcast interview in December, Dr. Tarantino said the agency’s medical staff grew from about 12 contracted personnel on the southern border a few years ago to about 1,400 by the end of last year.
In building up C.B.P.’s medical capabilities, Dr. Tarantino said it was important for people to understand the population in the agency’s custody.
“These are people who’ve had long journeys,” he said. “They many have had underlying medical conditions before they started, and they certainly encounter medical issues and challenges along the way.” He added that medical officials can send migrants with “complex or emergent” cases to a hospital.
What’s Next: The agency continues to review the incident and make changes.
Customs and Border Protection declined to say where Dr. Tarantino, a former Navy doctor, had been reassigned.
“We are bringing in additional senior leadership to drive action across the agency,” a spokeswoman, Rhonda Lawson, said in a statement on Thursday.
The agency relies heavily on contract medical personnel in its facilities.
Kitty Bennett contributed research.
Eileen Sullivan is a Washington correspondent covering the Department of Homeland Security. Previously, she worked at the Associated Press where she won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. @esullivannyt
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