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The company bringing migrants to Monroe County is accused of mistreating them

Two buses from New York City carrying 77 people seeking asylum in the United States arrived late Monday, Aug. 7, 2023, at the Holiday Inn on State Street in downtown Rochester.
Jeremy Moule
Two buses from New York City carrying 77 people seeking asylum in the United States arrived late Monday, Aug. 7, 2023, at the Holiday Inn on State Street in downtown Rochester.

The company hired to provide care and services to migrants bused from New York City to Rochester, Albany and elsewhere upstate is being accused of mistreating those in their charge.

The complaints have yet to surface locally, though, and officials don’t expect they will — pointing to advance planning and the involvement of outside community service organizations.

But there is scant detail to back up those promises.

And another busload of migrants is expected at the downtown Holiday Inn in the coming days.

In Albany, which has welcomed 700 migrants compared to 77 thus far in Rochester, there are complaints that DocGo — the company New York City hired to care for the migrants — has bullied and lied to them, fed them spoiled food and left them stranded at medical and other appointments without transportation.

“This is a huge responsibility,” Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan told reporters this week. “Human lives are being placed in the care and custody of DocGo. And I have grave concerns about the oversight or the lack of oversight that is happening.”

DocGo made a name for itself during the pandemic, providing mobile COVID testing and vaccination. The pivot to migrant care is recent, bolstered by a no-bid contract from New York City as it sought to manage an influx of migrants by busing them to hotels outside of the five boroughs.

The city has spent $1.45 billion on shelter, food and services for the nearly 100,000 asylum-seekers sent to the Big Apple from Southern states since last spring. If those trends continue without federal intervention, the city anticipates its expenses will near $12 billion over the next three fiscal years.

Those expenses include what New York City is paying DocGo to shelter migrants in cities across the state.

“My expectation is that we are investing in individuals so that they can be successful, and so that we can ensure that they are safe in our community,” Sheehan said. “And I have deep, deep concerns that that is not happening with the hundreds of millions of dollars that are being spent right now."

In New York City, Mayor Eric Adams has repeatedly asked for additional state and federal support. The city and the array of nonprofits assembled to help are overwhelmed. But the city has largely stood by DocGo, insisting the company has worked quickly to address concerns that arise.

"New York City has been left — largely alone — to deal with a national crisis that demands difficult and swift decision-making," a City Hall spokesperson said in an emailed response to questions. "DocGo has been a helpful partner in providing asylum seekers with temporary housing, access to services, and connections to local communities. We expect all contractors to meet the expectations laid out and we will look into these claims. In the meantime, we continue to do everything in our power to support asylum seekers as they build stable lives.”

'Absolutely the opposite'

This week brought first group of asylum seekers bussed by New York City to Rochester.

Monroe County touts an advance plan for the housing and care of the migrants that it required to be submitted, reviewed and approved before any migrants arrived. It is an attempt to instill order amid chaos, unique across New York state, but still lacking in transparency and clarity.

The plan that the county released publicly is a barebones outline more equivalent to a questionnaire. The county sees its role as monitoring the implementation of that plan.

“This includes the provision of adequate food and meeting basic personal and medical needs,” a county spokesman said in an email response to questions, though adding: "We are not a party to any contract, and therefore not directly involved in the provision of services.”

“We take very seriously our responsibility to ensure the asylees located in Monroe County receive the care and supplies they are entitled to,” the county response continued, “and have established monitoring mechanisms to document and rectify any issues that arise.”

It was not immediately clear what those mechanisms entailed.

County officials will review the plan every 30 days to ensure promises are being met.

Nayan Patel, who owns the Holiday Inn, said that because of what’s happened in Albany, he wanted the county, city and other service providers on board before signing a contract. And the experience thus far has been, “absolutely the opposite” of Albany, he said.

'Very concerning'

One or more community groups have partnered in the effort, which officials say provides an additional level of oversight. Calls and messages to those groups, asking about DocGo, were redirected, not returned or officials otherwise declined comment.

Among Sheehan’s complaints is that DocGo has not provided details about who the migrants are, or other specifics like their health needs, but is requesting help with vaccinations. DocGo has cited HIPAA and privacy and security concerns, officials said.

Monroe County has been provided a census of sorts, showing the number of men and women and the number and ages of children. It is unclear what, if any, other demographic data has been shared. A county spokesperson referred further demographic questions back to DocGo.

These questions of oversight, who is responsible, details about who is here and what help they need, are ones Sheehan is asking in Albany as well.

“Who is coming up and checking?” Sheehan asked. “Who is doing quality control? You know, relying on DocGo to say that they're looking into things ... is very concerning to me.”

DocGo did not responded to an email seeking comment.

Brian Sharp is WXXI's business and development reporter. He has been covering Rochester since 2005, working most of that time as an investigative reporter with the Democrat and Chronicle. His journalism career spans nearly three decades.