DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds wouldn’t comment Wednesday on accusations made against state officials in a federal lawsuit involving sexual arousal experiments performed on residents of a state-run care center for people with intellectual disabilities.
Two doctors and other former employees of Glenwood Resource Center in western Iowa filed a federal civil rights lawsuit this week against a state agency and several officials, asserting a conspiracy to silence complaints about sexual arousal research they said exploited fragile and dependent residents.
Reynolds told reporters she couldn’t comment on the lawsuit and said she is working with the Iowa Attorney General’s Office to see how the state responds.
“My priority is to make sure I’m protecting the state’s interest as well as the residents in Glenwood,” she said.
The claims center on Jerry Rea, the now-former Glenwood superintendent who was hired a few months after Reynolds became governor.
Two doctors and other staffers at the center asserted they were disciplined and fired to silence them after they complained. They allege in the lawsuit that Rea was determined to turn the facility into a research center through medical experimentation, including “sexual arousal research” on Glenwood patients.
Reynolds declined to answer a question about when she learned of experimentation on patients, saying: “That’s all going to come out through the investigation.” She also declined to respond to a question about how much of Rea’s background was checked before he was hired.
Rea, a child psychologist from Kansas, was hired to oversee Glenwood in September 2017.
The state-owned facility that cares for about 200 patient is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, which is looking into deaths at Glenwood and into the allegations of human research.
The Iowa Department of Human Services oversees operations at Glenwood. Acting Human Services Director Kelly Garcia, who began work Nov. 1, told legislators in a meeting Wednesday that she took quick action once she learned of problems at Glenwood by asking for outside help from University of Iowa doctors and others.
“My response that first week after reading the letter from our federal partners at the Department of Justice was I asked myself, ‘If my children resided at that facility, what would I expect in terms of a response?’” she said.
She said she has “set the agency on a path to fact-find and to repair deficiencies and I remain committed to taking decisive action as facts arise.”
Democratic Sen. Joe Bolkcom of Iowa City said he’s also concerned about 20 deaths at Glenwood over the last 1 1/2 years.
He said he finds it hard to believe people in the governor’s office “didn’t have some sense that there was trouble at Glenwood” and called for accountability for those responsible.
Garcia still must be confirmed by the Iowa Senate to become the permanent director.
Members of the Senate Human Resources Committee decided by voice vote to forward her confirmation to the Senate debate calendar.
A two-thirds majority is required to meet the minimum of 34 affirmative votes to confirm.
Rod Boshart of The Gazette Des Moines Bureau contributed.