Lawmakers plan hearings on arousal study at Iowa institution

DAVID PITT

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa lawmakers plan to hold hearings to investigate problems that have surfaced at a state-run institution for people with intellectual disabilities.

State Rep. Mary Ann Hanusa confirmed Wednesday that the House Government Oversight Committee she leads will hold a hearing about issues at Glenwood Resource Center, including deaths, overall care and sexual experiments done on patients. Hanusa, a Republican, is working with the Iowa Department of Human Services to arrange a date for a hearing, according to a statement released by the House Republican spokesman

“We take this situation seriously, but at the same time, we don’t want legislators to get in the way of any investigations that are currently taking place,” said House Speaker Pat Grassley in the statement ”At this time, enough information has been made public and I feel comfortable that the Government Oversight Committee can have a productive meeting without jeopardizing ongoing investigations."

Senate Oversight Committee Chairwoman Amy Sinclair, also a Republican, said Tuesday evening that she will attend the House meeting first before deciding whether to convene a Senate hearing.

“Protecting the citizens of Iowa, particularly vulnerable Iowans, from their own government is certainly an issue I believe is under the jurisdiction of my committee, but I want to proceed cautiously so that our actions do not interfere with the official actions currently progressing,” Sinclair said.

Iowa GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds didn’t object to legislative oversight hearings when asked Tuesday.

The U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division is investigating allegations that Jerry Rea, the former Glenwood superintendent, was planning to conduct human sexual arousal experiments and had begun questionable hydration therapy on patients. Division officials also were examining patient deaths.

Rea was hired in 2017 and fired in December.

Emails and other documents released by the Iowa Department of Human Services on Monday show top agency officials were alerted by a doctor and other Glenwood workers in early 2018 about patient care changes under Rea that they believed put the vulnerable population at risk.

An email written to Rick Shults, director of the department's Division of Mental Health and Disability Service, on May 21, 2018, shows he approved of Rea's research plan for conducting sexual arousal studies on patients. Shults retired last month.

Glenwood, located about 115 miles (185 kilometers) west of Des Moines, cares for about 250 individuals with intellectual disabilities.

Documents also indicate that former department Director Jerry Foxhoven was alerted to problems with Rea’s management of the Glenwood center as early as July 2018.

Reynolds has denied that she or her staff knew of the arousal experiments until the Justice Department notified the state of its investigation on Nov. 21, 2019. She said her staff and lawmakers were told about deaths but that the Human Services Department indicated they were comparable to national averages.

Reynolds asked Foxhoven to resign in June. She previously has said there were multiple reasons for her decision, but on Tuesday she said reports of deaths at Glenwood led her to believe care needed to improve and communication was lacking.

“We’re changing things moving forward so you can second guess whether I did it in a timely manner but when you don’t know what you don’t know you’re kind of handcuffed on some of the changes that you need to make,” she told reporters.

Tom Duff, Foxhoven's attorney, said his client kept the governor’s staff informed of Human Services Department issues, including complaints at Glenwood. He said Foxhoven, when approached about the arousal experiments, refused to authorize them.

“He said absolutely not and said these people can’t give you consent,” Duff said.

Two doctors and four other former Glenwood employees filed a lawsuit this month alleging a conspiracy by top officials to silence complaints about the planned sexual arousal research and patient care. It names as defendants Foxhoven, Shults, Rea and Mohammad Rehman, the Glenwood medical director, who remains on the job.

Foxhoven also has filed a $2 million wrongful termination claim against the state.