Government

Feds: Iowa violated Constitutional rights of people with disabilities at Glenwood Resource Center

Former residents allege they were test subjects in sexual arousal experiments

This Dec. 19, 2019, photo shows the outside the Glenwood Resource Center administration building in Glenwood, Iowa. (Kel
This Dec. 19, 2019, photo shows the outside the Glenwood Resource Center administration building in Glenwood, Iowa. (Kelsey Kremer/The Des Moines Register via AP)

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

A report released Tuesday identified broad failures at southwest Iowa’s 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 federal 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 federal investigation concluded 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 people, they should never be subject to bizarre and deviant pseudo-medical `experiments’ that injure them,” said U.S. 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 people 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 the state government to ensure reforms are instituted at Glenwood.

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Gov. Kim Reynolds said she instructed Human Services Director Kelly Garcia to cooperate with the 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.

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.

Human Services 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 investigation found uncontrolled and unsupervised experimentation, inadequate physical and behavioral health care 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 then-Superintendent Dr. Jerry Rea to conduct sexual arousal experiments using a computer containing images of nude and clothed children. Federal investigators said they didn’t find evidence the images were ever shown.

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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 investigation began. Glenwood’s medical director later resigned.

In June 2019. then Human Services Director Jerry Foxhoven resigned at the request of Reynolds. He later sued the state for wrongful discharge, a pending case.

The Justice Department also concluded that Glenwood’s behavioral health care, including its use of restraints, violates residents’ due process.

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

The Justice Department 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.

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