Iowa lawmakers consider hearings on state institution’s ‘sexual arousal’ studies on residents

By: - February 25, 2020 1:29 pm

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds addresses reporters on Feb. 25, 2020.

A key lowa lawmaker on Tuesday said legislators are considering oversight hearings after new revelations in an ongoing investigation into a “sexual arousal” study involving residents of a state-run institution for people with severe disabilities.

Gov. Kim Reynolds said she would welcome the investigation.

“We’re actually looking at that, but clearly there are other investigations already underway,” said Rep. Mary Ann Hanusa, R-Council Bluffs, chairwoman of the House Government Oversight Committee. “We certainly don’t want to do anything that would get in the way of that or hinder those investigations, but we are looking at it to see if it’s something we may pursue through Government Oversight.”

The Glenwood Resource Center is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and is operating under new leadership that Reynolds strongly supports.

Hanusa said that as far as she knows, no one has indicated that Government Oversight Committee hearings would interfere with any of the other investigations into Glenwood. “But like I say I am still assessing everything at this point and no decisions have been made,” she said.

At her weekly news conference, Reynolds defended the state’s response even after a Des Moines Register report Monday described emails showing that a top state health official knew about a “sexual preoccupation” study involving Glenwood residents well before federal officials launched an investigation late last year.

Asked by a reporter if it is time for oversight action by the Legislature, Reynolds said, “I’m absolutely fine with the Legislature stepping in and doing something.” She then repeated her praise for the work of Kelly Garcia, director of the Iowa Department of Human Services, which runs Glenwood.

Garcia took over after the dismissal of Jerry Foxhoven, who has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the state. Glenwood had endured a string of deaths that raised questions and Glenwood staffers had expressed a range of concerns about the facility’s operation.

The U.S. Department of Justice then launched the investigation into potentially “harmful and uncontrolled human subject experiments.” State officials have said the focus of the studies on Glenwood residents were on “sexual arousal” and “optimal hydration.” Several lawsuits are pending, Reynolds said Tuesday.

The Register found that emails showed some Glenwood staff members knew of the experiments in early 2018. In response to a reporter’s question Tuesday, Reynolds said Foxhoven had not shared concerns with her office. She added: “Listen, I made a decision to go in a different direction and with the new person that I brought in (Garcia), I’ve made it very clear that transparency is an expectation of that agency.”

Reynolds, in response to a string of questions from reporters, repeated her stand that neither her office nor other state agencies outside of the Department of Human Services knew of complaints about the study until federal officials launched their investigation.

“I’m responsible,” Reynolds said. “I’m the governor of the state of Iowa. I’ve decided to make changes at different agencies. We’re doing that.”

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