Public Health, Law Enforcement, and Standing Rock

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Written by: Dr. Lauren Wilson ND, LMP

Conditions in Moton County jails are causing an increased risk of severe illness in detained protesters. Furthermore, the arrest of medical staff is reducing the treatment opportunities available for patients in the Missouri River encampments.

The most common chief complaint at the Missouri River camps is a severe, unresolving cough. The cold weather and close quarters contribute to this problem as well as the conditions faced by those detained. In one of the more dangerous cases a 21 year old man had been severely stressed while detained, and had subsequently developed pneumonia. By the time camp physicians had a chance to evaluate and manage his case he was lying on his side, barely able to cough, let alone breathe efficiently. His pulse was elevated, he had a high fever, his blood pressure was low and his blood oxygen saturation was low.

During the patient’s time with the Morton County justice system he was not provided water for 12 hours, and was not provided food for 16 hours. During his detainment he was kept with a number of other prisoners with minimal clothing in a very cold room. It was noticed that cold air was being introduced to the room through vents.

Medical care at the camps is also limited simply by the number of health care providers available at any given time. This is also adversely affected by arrest patterns. Clearly marked medics have repeatedly been arrested at protest sites on highway 1806. Many report that medics are targeted more than other people and police have made concerted effort to break the protest line in order to detain publicly identified health care providers.

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This combination of poor conditions in jails and removal of healthcare providers poses a health risk to a large vulnerable population. Not only does this effect the protesters, but it also affects hundreds of camp residents, including children, who are not directly involved in protests. Residents of the Missouri River camps have called for more humane treatment of those arrested and immunity to arrest for identified medics. Many cite the role of the Red Cross during major wars, where medical care providers were often granted free passage by both sides during military conflict. Morton county, to this date, has not made changes to improve the public health implications of it’s policy.

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