GLENWOOD, Iowa (KMTV) — Sybil Finken of Glenwood, Iowa, says her 41-year-old son was abruptly taken off of a medication he had been on for 35 years while living at the Glenwood Resource Center.
“I think he wanted to use our loved ones as guinea pigs,” she said.
The facility in Glenwood violated the constitutional rights of its patients with intellectual disabilities by ignoring requests for necessary care and performing human experiments, according to a 63-page report released by the U.S. Department of Justice in late December.
The death rate increased significantly after Dr. Jerry Rae arrived to serve as the superintendent of the facility in September 2017, the report said.
Rae became superintendent “after a disturbing set of allegations of abuse and neglect, some of which resulted in criminal charges against Glenwood staff.” But Rae began to experiment, without permission, on residents “in order to make Glenwood ‘relevant.’”
“What had already been a facility plagued by poor communication and integration among departments became even more dysfunctional,” the report said.
After seeing just two deaths in April 2015 and March 2016, 13 residents of the center died in the same span in 2018 and 2019.
Specifically, the facility identified residents with a history of frequently developing pneumonia and overhydrated them with feeding tubes to dangerous levels. The decision to overhydrate these patients was not based on their individual needs, the report says. Some of them were on fluid restrictions before the experiment began.
“We have been in a collaborative role in this process from day one,” said an Iowa Department of Human Services spokesperson in a statement when the report was released, adding that the agency can’t offer further comment because of the ongoing legal matter. “Our highest priority is the care and well-being of those we serve.”
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said she is “committed to bringing all the tools and state resources needed to address the challenges at the facility.”
But the DOJ report is critical of DHS’s administration of the facility as well as the facility itself. For example, DHS told Iowa legislators that research was not occurring at the Glenwood Resource Center, but “did not check before making that report,” according to the DOJ investigation.
DHS later didn’t follow up on that claim when it approved Rea’s request to travel to Kansas to meet with “proposed research collaborators on the very research projects that had reportedly been vetoed.”
“When DHS was confronted by media inquiries about the increase in deaths at Glenwood in the first part of 2019, DHS dismissed the trend by pointing to the age of the residents, and took no steps to determine if the increase in deaths was linked to clinical deficiencies,” the report said in part. “Similarly, when current and former Glenwood staff contacted DHS to express concerns about the quality of Glenwood’s medical care, DHS leadership brushed them aside as ‘disgruntled’ employees, and made no attempt to investigate whether their concerns had merit.”
Rae was fired in late 2019, weeks after the DOJ investigation was announced. The DHS director, Jerry Foxhoven, was asked to resign in June 2019, and Reynolds months later acknowledged the increase in deaths at Glenwood was one of the reasons, according to the Des Moines Register.
DOJ has inspected the Glenwood and Woodward Resource Centers before, the report says. In 2002, DOJ found both facilities were constitutionally deficient.
For more, watch the video above, and find a full copy of the investigation here.