Feds say Iowa is ‘heavily biased’ toward institutionalizing the disabled

By: - December 8, 2021 4:17 pm

The U.S. Department of Justice has been investigating Iowa’s Glenwood Resource Center for one year. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Justice)

The U.S. Department of Justice announced Wednesday that Iowa is “heavily biased” toward institutionalizing people with intellectual disabilities.

The findings are the result of a long-running investigation into the state-run Glenwood and Woodward resource centers for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The investigation centered on the issue of whether residents of facilities are subjected to unnecessary institutionalization in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Glenwood and Woodward facilities are run by the Iowa Department of Human Services, which said Wednesday that it is “not surprised by anything” in the Justice Department’s report and remains proud of the work that has been done in an effort to address the issues cited by federal investigators.

In its report, the Justice Department said there is “reasonable cause” to believe Iowa fails to provide services to residents of the two centers in the most community-integrated settings that are appropriate to their needs.

Iowa’s system of care for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities is “heavily biased toward institutionalization,” the Justice Department stated in its report. Critical services and support that would allow residents to live in their own homes and communities — such as behavioral, crisis and physical health supports — are often unavailable outside the centers.

Iowa also fails to provide residents and their guardians with sufficient information about community options that do exist, the Justice Department said. As a result, many resource center residents who could receive desired services in the community are needlessly segregated in institutions.

“People with disabilities should not be unlawfully isolated and unreasonably denied access to the community-based services they need,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Civil Rights Division will actively defend the rights of individuals with disabilities to participate fully in community life.”

The department’s investigation was conducted under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act and the ADA. Consistent with CRIPA’s statutory requirements and ADA regulations, the department has notified the state of the minimum remedial measures necessary to address the alleged violations.

Among the recommendations: Iowa should increase community capacity for the disabled by expanding services and removing restrictions on community services for people already living in, or at serious risk of entering, either of the two resource centers.

Iowa’s lack of community-based services for the disabled has been an issue for at least 20 years, but has become more visible in recent years as advocacy groups have publicly questioned the state’s willingness and ability to serve that population.

In response to the findings, Iowa Department of Human Services Director Kelly Garcia said “Iowa has a long-standing history of over-reliance on institutional settings. With new leadership, my team is committed to building out the array of services to ensure individuals are able to live their most independent lives possible.”

Garcia said although the Justice Department findings “are significant and we take them incredibly seriously, we are not surprised by anything identified in the report,” and added that DHS has “been working internally to address many of the findings throughout the past two years.” She said DHS is “proud of the work we’ve already done — during a pandemic — and are committed to continued progress.”

The Justice Department’s announcement concludes the second and final phase of the department’s investigation, which was initiated in November 2019.

The first phase was conducted by the Civil Rights Division and the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa and focused on conditions at Glenwood. In December 2020, the department notified the state that the department had reasonable cause to believe conditions there violated the federal rights of the residents.

Additional information about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.