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DOJ: Iowa Likely Violated Disabled Residents' Rights With Human Experimentation, Poor Medical Care At State-Run Facility

The Glenwood Resource Center is a state-run facility for Iowans with severe disabilities.
Katie Peikes
IPR file
The Glenwood Resource Center is a state-run facility for Iowans with severe disabilities.

The U.S. Department of Justice has concluded the state of Iowa likely violated the constitutional rights of disabled residents at the state-run Glenwood Resource Center by subjecting them to harmful human experimentation and inadequate medical care.

The DOJ released their findings Tuesday, about a year after it notified state officials it was beginning an investigation of conditions at Glenwood.

“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,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said in a statement. “Human experimentation is the hallmark of sick totalitarian states and has no place in the United States of America.”

The DOJ concluded the state conducted experiments on residents, who have severe intellectual and physical disabilities, without consent. One experiment involved overhydrating patients and caused physical harm.

The investigation also found residents “fail to receive timely or clinically appropriate medical assessments or treatment, at times resulting in severe physical harm.” It found the center’s behavioral health care, including a major increase in the use of restraints from 2017 to 2019, also violated residents’ constitutional rights.

The DOJ found “severe deficiencies” in oversight and management at Glenwood and the Iowa Department of Human Services created an environment that allowed these things to occur.

A top Iowa Department of Human Services official, Rick Shults, was aware of at least one experiment, according to an email released earlier this year.

Gov. Kim Reynolds said her June 2019 firing of DHS Director Jerry Foxhoven was partly related to his response to an increase in deaths at the Glenwood center, a pattern revealed by the Des Moines Register. She then hired Kelly Garcia to be the DHS director.

Reynolds said in February that she did not know if Foxhoven was aware of Shults’ knowledge of the study. She has said she found out about the human experimentation allegations when she got a letter from the DOJ in November 2019. Former Glenwood superintendent Jerry Rea was put on leave and fired after the investigation was announced at that time.

In a statement Tuesday, Reynolds said the conditions at Glenwood were “unconscionable and unacceptable.” She said the state has fully cooperated with the federal investigation, and commended Garcia for “immediately digging in to assess the situation.”

“I am committed to bringing all the tools and state resources needed to address the challenges at the facility,” Reynolds said. “The families and loved ones remain in my thoughts as this likely brings up very difficult and strong emotions.”

A DHS spokesman said the department is reviewing the findings and will continue to work with federal partners “on the best path forward to ensure we provide the best care to those we serve.”

The DOJ is still investigating Glenwood and the Woodward Resource Center for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act related to receiving services in the most integrated way possible.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter