Best of AP — First Winner


AP investigates medical care at immigrant detention facility after explosive allegations


The allegations were explosive: A nurse at an immigration detention facility in rural Georgia said a gynecologist she called “the uterus collector” performed mass hysterectomies without detainees’ consent.

Reaction was fast and furious, with congressional Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, demanding answers. More than 170 members of Congress wrote that they were “horrified.” The Associated Press, however, treated the allegations cautiously, noting the nurse’s lack of specifics, an advocacy group’s unwillingness to release her full statement to investigators and a refusal to answer questions from AP Atlanta reporter Jeff Amy at a news conference.

After two spot stories by a team of four AP reporters, Houston-based immigration reporter Nomaan Merchant sought to get to the bottom of it amid intense competition. He reached out to sources developed over years of reporting on immigrant detention. Sources also provided medical records that gave a fuller picture of a doctor who had performed gynecological procedures – not just hysterectomies – on women who subsequently said they didn’t fully understand or consent to what was being done. Two doctors reviewed details in the records and explained potential red flags. A Cuban woman recounted how she was told only that she would undergo an operation to treat her ovarian cysts and that it would be finished when she awoke.

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Dawn Wooten, far left, a nurse at Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia, attends a Sept. 15, 2020 news conference in Atlanta, protesting medical treatment at the immigration facility. – AP Photo / Jeff Amy

Merchant’s Sept. 18 story broke significant ground and offered the most complete picture yet of Dr. Mahendra Amin’s actions. While the AP’s review did not find evidence of mass hysterectomies,it revealed a growing pattern of women not consenting to procedures that potentially jeopardized their ability to have children. Three days later, the AP was first to report that the doctor would no longer treat immigrant detainees.

AP responded cautiously to the unsubstantiated allegations of mass hysterectomies.

The story was used by Politico in its Friday afternoon Playbook newsletter as well as by PBS News Hour,the Los Angeles Times,the San Francisco Chronicle,the Houston Chronicle,MSN,Yahoo,AOL and other international outlets. It had nearly 200,000 page views on AP News and prominent play in print editions of The Guardian,The Denver Post and The Baltimore Sun,among others.

For impressive work that broke news on a highly competitive story, Merchant wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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