Feds Probe Iowa Care Home: Disabled 'not Human Guinea Pigs'

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- The U.S. Justice Department has found a state-run care center for people with intellectual disabilities has likely violated the constitutional rights of residents by subjecting them to human experiments, some of which were deemed dangerous by federal investigators.

A report released Tuesday identified broad failures at the Glenwood Resource Center, including poor treatment of residents and failure of the Iowa Department of Human Services to respond. The report said breakdowns in the quality of physical health care exposed residents to harm and serious risk of harm.

“Iowa has been deliberately indifferent to those breakdowns and the risks they pose. Glenwood frequently leaves residents at serious risk of harm or death by ignoring changes in condition outright, or by adopting a clinically unjustified 'wait and see' approach,” the report said.

The department began investigating in November 2019, just months after The Des Moines Register reported an unusually high number of deaths at Glenwood and quoted workers blaming inadequate care as the cause of some deaths.

The DOJ investigation concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe the conditions at Glenwood violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“Individuals with disabilities are not human guinea pigs, and like all persons, they should never be subject to bizarre and deviant pseudo-medical 'experiments' that injure them," said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division. “Human experimentation is the hallmark of sick totalitarian states and has no place in the United States of America. The U.S. Constitution protects the right of all persons in this free country who are in the care of the state to be reasonably free from harm or the risk of harm.”

He said the department will work with Iowa to ensure reforms are instituted at Glenwood.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said she instructed Iowa Department of Human Services Director Kelly Garcia to cooperate with the federal investigation when she learned of it.

“What happened at the Glenwood Resource Center was unconscionable and unacceptable. Under Director Garcia's leadership at DHS, we've fully cooperated with the investigation and I commend her for immediately digging in to assess the situation," Reynolds said.

Reynolds said she is committed to bringing all the tools and state resources needed to address the challenges at the facility.

A letter from Dreiband to Reynolds dated Tuesday said that 49 days after the notice the U.S. Attorney General may initiate a lawsuit under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act to correct the alleged conditions if the state has not satisfactorily addressed them.

DHS spokesman Matt Highland said the department is reviewing the findings.

“We will continue discussions with our legal counsel and the DOJ. We have been in a collaborative role in this process from day one,” he said.

The DOJ found uncontrolled and unsupervised experimentation, inadequate physical and behavioral healthcare, and inadequate protection from harm, including deficient safety and oversight mechanisms.

Specifically, the department concluded that the state violated Glenwood residents' constitutional rights by conducting experiments on them without their consent. The department found that one experiment, which involved overhydrating residents, caused physical harm.

Other experiments involved psychological research on impulsivity. The agency said there were apparent plans by Glenwood's former Superintendent Dr. Jerry Rea to conduct sexual arousal experiments using a computer containing images of nude and clothed children the DOJ said it didn't find evidence the images were ever shown to residents.

Rea took over the position in September 2017 shortly after Reynolds became governor. He was fired at the end of December 2019, about a month after the DOJ investigation began. Glenwood's medical director later resigned.

In June 2019 Iowa Department of Human Services Director Jerry Foxhoven resigned at the request of Reynolds over issues involving Glenwood and he later sued the state for wrongful discharge.

The DOJ also concluded that Glenwood's behavioral health care, including its use of restraints, violates residents' due process rights.

Investigators found severe deficiencies in the oversight and quality management at both Glenwood and the Iowa Department of Human Services and that these deficiencies fostered an environment in which the constitutional violations could and did routinely occur.

The DOJ is continuing to investigate whether the state violates the rights of residents of Glenwood and residents of another state-run facility, the Woodward Resource Centers under the Americans with Disabilities Act.