DOJ settles with state over ‘deviant’ experiments on disabled Glenwood residents

By: - December 1, 2022 4:08 pm

The state-run Glenwood Resource Center is scheduled to close in 2024. (Photo via Google Earth)

The U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday that it has reached a proposed settlement with the state of Iowa to resolve allegations concerning resident care at the state-run Glenwood Resource Center for people with disabilities.

The settlement, which is in the form of a proposed consent decree that still must be approved by a federal judge, is intended to address the Justice Department’s claims that the state has violated the constitutional rights of Glenwood residents and exposed them to unreasonable harm.

The DOJ has alleged that the harm to residents stems from “uncontrolled and unsupervised experimentation” on residents, as well as inadequate physical and behavioral health care.

Glenwood is run by the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services, the same state agency that’s charged with protecting the health and welfare of children and dependent adults in Iowa.

The settlement comes seven months after the state announced its plans to close Glenwood by the end of 2024.

“People with disabilities should not be subjected to the kind of unconstitutional conditions and ill treatment that too many have experienced at Glenwood,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This agreement makes clear that the basic constitutional rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities living in state-run facilities must be protected. Our agreement will ensure adequate oversight of and accountability at Glenwood, and requires extensive public reporting to promote transparency and rebuild public trust.”

The proposed consent decree prohibits uncontrolled and unsupervised experiments; requires better staffing, training and oversight for clinical care; dramatically limits the use of restraints and seclusion; and requires substantial state oversight over all aspects of Glenwood’s operation.

The state must also implement policies and procedures to address the underlying deficiencies that led to the alleged constitutional violations. In addition, the decree requires greater transparency by the state through public reporting.

The settlement requires the appointment of an independent monitor who will assess the state’s compliance with the terms of the settlement. It also provides that if more than one-third of current Glenwood residents move to, and are living at, the state-run Woodward Resource Center, the terms of the settlement will apply to Woodward, as well.

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa initiated an investigation at Glenwood in November 2019.

DOJ cites ‘bizarre and deviant’ experiments

In December 2020, the department provided the state with written notice of the unlawful conditions that existed at the facility. Specifically, the department concluded that there was reasonable cause to believe the state violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution by harming Glenwood residents and by placing them at serious risk of harm.

At the time, the DOJ issued a press release that said “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. Human experimentation is the hallmark of sick totalitarian states and has no place in the United States of America.”

Specifically, the department concluded that the state violated Glenwood residents’ constitutional rights by conducting experiments on them without their consent. One experiment, which involved overhydrating residents, caused physical harm to the residents, the DOJ reported.

In addition, the department concluded that Glenwood residents received constitutionally inadequate health care, at times resulting in severe physical harm. The department also concluded that Glenwood’s behavioral health care, including its use of restraints, violated residents’ due process rights.

The DOJ blamed “severe deficiencies” in the oversight and quality management at not only Glenwood, but at the Iowa Department of Human Services, now part of the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services.

The DOJ also noted that DHS withheld information about the experiments from state legislators who had questioned the facility’s unusually high death rate.

The settlement does not resolve the DOJ’s separate findings regarding the unnecessary institutionalization of people with intellectual disabilities at the Glenwood and Woodward resource centers. Negotiations to resolve that issue are still ongoing, the Justice Department said.

Glenwood cited in two deaths this year

State records indicate that Glenwood still struggles with resident-care issues.

In early June, the western-Iowa facility was cited by inspectors after a 30-year-old resident of the home died of acute dehydration when the facility staff failed to monitor his fluid intake. The home was fined $10,000 – later reduced to $6,500 — by the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals.

A few weeks later, DIA cited Glenwood for having placed residents in immediate jeopardy based on a failure to train and supervise the staff. Those finding were tied to an incident in which a resident’s bottled oxygen was shut off for hours, leaving the man gasping for air.

In August, inspectors alleged the home had again placed residents in immediate jeopardy, this time by failing to ensure the staff notified nurses when a female resident’s heart rate fell below 60 beats per minute. The staff later found the resident unresponsive, called 911 and started CPR.

The resident was taken to a hospital where she was pronounced dead. The Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals fined the home $7,500 but because Glenwood didn’t appeal the findings, the fine was reduced to $4,875.

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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.