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UMC reveals independent review results in light of cavity search lawsuit

By: Gina Benitez
EL PASO, Texas -- After a lawsuit was filed by a woman who claims she was illegally cavity searched at University Medical Center while in custody of Customs and Border Protection, the hospital reveals findings of an independent study about it's practices and procedures.

Laura Cavaretta, the attorney who conducted the review, said the practices and policies at UMC comply with the law.

Cavaretta however did find some room for improvement.

As we've reported, the American Civil Liberties Union is suing the hospital and several Customs and Border Protection officers on behalf of a New Mexico woman after she says she was made to feel like an animal.

The lawsuit alleges the woman was crossing the Bridge of the Americas in December of 2012 when CBP officers suspected she had drugs on her.

She was later taken to UMC where she claims doctors and the officers anally and vaginally probed her for hours.

No drugs were ever found and she was left with a $5,000 hospital bill.

UMC officials said they took care of the woman's $5,000 bill and are updating their system so that from now on, anyone in the custody of law enforcement who comes in for a cavity search will never have to foot that bill.

UMC Friday wouldn't comment on specifics of the case, but here are the five areas where the attorney found improvement was needed:

1. UMC should reaffirm that physicians make the decisions in the best interest of their patients.

2. Update, streamline and clarify all policies regarding patient consent and payment options.

3. Conduct ongoing employee education and training.

4. Maintain a dialogue with law enforcement.

5. Tweak the electronic medical record system so consent forms can be added.

Dr. Jose Burgos, a medical director at UMC who was on the panel Friday, said the doctors aren't there to look for drugs, they're there to do what's in the patient's best interest.

"We are not an extension of any law enforcement agency. No physician in the world is. We are independent. When I say we, I don't mean we as in UMC, we as physicians are able to make our own decisions," Burgos said.

The attorney stressed patient consent is always necessary for every procedure, even for patients in law enforcement custody.

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