DES MOINES — Iowa lawmakers plan to hold hearings to investigate problems that have surfaced at a state-run institution for people with intellectual disabilities.
State Rep. Mary Ann Hanusa confirmed Wednesday that the House Government Oversight Committee she leads will hold a hearing about issues at western Iowa’s Glenwood Resource Center, including deaths, overall care and sexual experiments done on patients.
Hanusa, a Republican, is working with the Iowa Department of Human Services to arrange a date for a hearing, according to a statement.
Senate Oversight Committee Chairwoman Amy Sinclair, also a Republican, said Tuesday evening she will attend the House meeting before deciding whether to convene a Senate hearing.
“Protecting the citizens of Iowa, particularly vulnerable Iowans, from their own government is certainly an issue I believe is under the jurisdiction of my committee, but I want to proceed cautiously so that our actions do not interfere with the official actions currently progressing,” Sinclair said.
GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds didn’t object to legislative oversight hearings when asked Tuesday.
The U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division is investigating allegations that Jerry Rea, the former Glenwood superintendent, was planning to conduct human sexual arousal experiments and had begun questionable hydration therapy on patients. Officials also were examining patient deaths.
Rea was hired in 2017 and fired in December.
Emails and other documents released this week by the Iowa Department of Human Services show top agency officials were alerted by a doctor and other Glenwood workers in early 2018 about patient care changes under Rea that they believed put the vulnerable population at risk.
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An email written to Rick Shults, director of the department’s Division of Mental Health and Disability Service, on May 21, 2018, shows he approved of Rea’s research plan for conducting sexual arousal studies on patients. Shults retired last month.
Documents also indicate then-Human Services Director Jerry Foxhoven was alerted to problems with Rea’s management as early as July 2018.
Glenwood cares for about 250 people with intellectual disabilities.
Reynolds has denied that she or her staff knew of the arousal experiments until the Justice Department notified the state of its investigation on Nov. 21, 2019. She said her staff and lawmakers were told about patient deaths but that Human Services indicated they were comparable with national averages.
Reynolds asked Foxhoven to resign in June 2019. She previously has said there were multiple reasons for her decision, but this week said reports of deaths at Glenwood led her to believe care needed to improve and communication was lacking.
“We’re changing things moving forward so you can second guess whether I did it in a timely manner. But when you don’t know what you don’t know, you’re kind of handcuffed on some of the changes that you need to make,” she said.
Tom Duff, Foxhoven’s attorney, said his client kept the governor’s staff informed of Human Services issues, including complaints at Glenwood. He said Foxhoven, when approached about the arousal experiments, refused to authorize them.
Two doctors and four other former Glenwood employees filed a lawsuit this month alleging a conspiracy by top officials to silence complaints about the planned research and patient care. It names as defendants Foxhoven, Shults, Rea and Mohammad Rehman, the Glenwood medical director, who remains on the job.
Foxhoven also has filed a $2 million wrongful termination claim against the state.
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