Whistleblowers at Border Shelter Say They Were Told to ‘Downplay’ COVID Outbreak Among Kids
Two more whistleblowers have come forward to allege that children were mistreated by contractors and senior federal employee managers at a Department Health and Human Services migrant shelter in Fort Bliss, Texas, earlier this year, and also say HHS told them to downplay hundreds of Covid infections among children held at the facility.
“Covid was widespread among children and eventually spread to many employees. Hundreds of children contracted Covid in the overcrowded conditions. Adequate masks were not consistently provided to children, nor was their use consistently enforced,” the whistleblowers, Arthur Pearlstein and Lauren Reinhold, said in a federal whistleblower complaint filed Wednesday.
Pearlstein and Reinhold are federal employees who volunteered to be detailed to the shelter when the Biden administration ramped up staffing to accommodate the influx of unaccompanied children crossing the border by building emergency intake shelters like Fort Bliss and others.
They also said the contractors gave children false hopes of reuniting with family members only to pull them back at the last minute, even taking children out of lines for buses and off airplanes before takeoff.
We have a responsibility to these children, and we can't look away. https://t.co/fzK0cgqKtH
— T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights (@truahrabbis) July 29, 2021
But at the end of their service, they said, federal detailees were regularly given written instructions from HHS public affairs that told them, “when asked, to make everything sound positive about the Fort Bliss experience and to play down anything negative.” At a town hall with employees, a senior manager from the U.S. Public Health Service refused to share the rate of infections, explaining that he did not want the number to end up reported by the media, they said.
In a statement, an HHS spokesperson said, “The care and well-being of children in our custody continues to be a top priority for HHS. Currently, children at the Emergency Intake Site at Fort Bliss meet with a case manager weekly and we have close to 60 mental health and behavioral counselors on site working with the children. It remains our policy to swiftly report any alleged instances of wrongdoing to the appropriate authorities.”