Aurora OKs disease reporting mandate for GEO ICE center, other holding units, while 1 agency balks

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The GEO ICE facility in Aurora.

AURORA | Detention centers in the city of Aurora will now have to report to the fire department when there is an infectious disease outbreak, but there’s still confusion on which agencies the ordinance applies to.

Aurora City Council members approved the ordinance, which has been in the works since mid-August. Council members Johnny Watson and Dave Gruber voted against the measure and advocated for tabling the vote until it was cleared up which facilities in the city the ordinance would apply to. 

Originally, fire department officials said four facilities would have to report instances of communicable disease: the GEO Group Inc. immigration detention center, the Aurora municipal jail, Aurora Mental Health’s Crisis Stabilization Unit and Jefferson Hills treatment center.

During Monday’s meeting Aurora Mental Health Center legislative and community director Debbie Stafford raised concerns about the facility’s inclusion under the ordinance, saying that everybody who is there is able to leave and are not detained.

Fire department officials said they included Aurora Mental Health because there may be people staying there for 72-hour holds. They said they made that conclusion under the definition from the International Fire Code.

Councilman Charlie Richardson, who represents the ward where Aurora Mental Health is located, said Stafford should seek a legal opinion from the city if the ordinance passed and if it was not what the organization wanted to hear, he would work with them.

Other members assured Stafford that if people are allowed to leave — Stafford said the facility has a delayed exit — the ordinance clearly does not apply to them.

In the ordinance “detention facility” is defined as “a facility that a person, corporation or government owns, rents, leases or has otherwise lawful possession, dedicated to maintaining inmates or detainees imprisoned or otherwise confined whether under contract with a government agency or not, exclusion half way houses and other facilities where residents have freedom of movement.” 

Watson also said the ordinance was being created for “the sake of legislation.” Gruber added that Tri-county Health, which has jurisdiction over GEO Group Inc., already shares information with the fire department.

Council person Allison Hiltz, who sponsored the ordinance, said instances of failed reporting from GEO Group Inc. to the health department earlier this year highlighted a gap in city code and presents a risk to the city’s first responders.

“Again, the cooperation is voluntary,” she said, calling the GEO Group Inc. incident a “catalyst” to the legislation.

Aurora firefighters responded to the north Aurora detention facility, which can house up to 1,500 detainees, 64 times between he beginning of 2016 through the end of last year, according to city data. Fire personnel responded to the address 10 times in the first two months of this year.

Aurora police were called to the building nearly 300 times in the previous three years, according to data obtained by The Sentinel.

Under the new ordinance, reports of communicable diseases at any city detention center will be added to the fire department’s call notes, which firefighters can review en route to an incident.

“It’s just a little bit more information,” Deputy Fire Chief Stephen McInerny told council members at a committee meeting this summer. “ … Having that really helps us out.” 

— Staff Writer Quincy Snowdon contributed to this report