Feds announce settlement over Iowa disability center abuse

The U.S. Justice Department has announced a settlement with the state of Iowa to resolve allegations of abuse and inadequate care at a state-run care center for people with intellectual disabilities

ByMARGERY A. BECK Associated Press
December 1, 2022, 4:31 PM

The U.S. Justice Department has announced a settlement with the state of Iowa to resolve allegations of abuse and inadequate care at the state-run Glenwood Resource Center, a center for people with intellectual disabilities.

A proposed consent decree announced Thursday by the DOJ would see an independent monitor appointed to assess the state's compliance with the decree's terms.

“People with disabilities should not be subjected to the kind of unconstitutional conditions and ill treatment that too many have experienced at Glenwood,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke with the DOJ's Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “This agreement makes clear that the basic constitutional rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities living in state-run facilities must be protected."

In 2020, the Justice Department found that the center likely violated the constitutional rights of residents by subjecting them to human experiments — including sexual arousal research — some of which were deemed dangerous. That report identified broad failures at the center, including poor treatment of residents and failure of the Iowa Department of Human Services to respond.

The DOJ began investigating in November 2019 after reports of a high rate of deaths at the center.

In 2018, 13 workers at the center quit or were fired over abuse allegations, and five of them were later sentenced to probation for mistreating residents.

The settlement, which must still be approved by a judge, would prohibit uncontrolled and unsupervised experiments on residents, require better staffing, training and oversight for clinical care, and dramatically limit the use of restraints and seclusion on residents. It also would require substantial oversight of all aspects of Glenwood’s operation and require the state to address the underlying deficiencies that led to the alleged violation of residents' constitutional rights.

The decree also requires more public reporting and engagement with residents' families and would require the appointment of an independent monitor who will assess the state's compliance with the decree’s terms.

Earlier this year, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced that the state plans to close the Glenwood Resource Center, which has treated vulnerable people since the early 1900s, by June 30, 2024.

Under the newly announced agreement, if more than one-third of current Glenwood residents move to, and are living at, Woodward Resource Center — the other state-run institution for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities — at any point during the decree term, then the consent decree will apply to Woodward as well.

The Iowa Department of Human Services, which oversees the Glenwood center, said in a statement Thursday that the agency “is committed to providing the highest level of care possible at Glenwood, until the last resident transitions" ahead of its closure.

Since plans to close the Glenwood facility were announced, 32 residents have been moved to other settings, the agency said, while 118 remain at the center.

The agency also indicated it is entertaining moving away from providing institutionalized care for those with intellectual disabilities, saying several providers have expressed an interest in serving Glenwood residents in community settings across the state — but added “there is substantial work to do.”

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