Lawsuit Claim: Iowa State-Owned I/DD Provider Transformed by Rogue ‘Investigators’ into Research ‘Den of Iniquity’

Feb 15, 2020 | Challenged Sites, Informed Consent, Lawsuit, Research Ethics, Sexual Arousal Research, Site Challenges, Site Watch

Lawsuit Claim Iowa State-Owned IDD Provider Transformed by Rogue ‘Investigators’ into Research ‘Den of Iniquity’

A federal civil lawsuit has been filed against a state agency and several officials alleging a conspiracy to silence complaints about shocking and outrageous research projects involving sexual arousal investigations at an Iowa care center for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). In what is disgusting, gut-wrenching behavior if true, this would represent a tale not even the most twisted Hollywood B-Horror writer could conjure up. If even some of the allegations are valid, how in the world could the State of Iowa let this happen?

Shocking if True

Two physicians and former staff of the state-owned, Iowa care center for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) known as the Glenwood Resource Center filed the federal complaint alleging illicit research involving sexual arousal research that involved the use of pornography exploited vulnerable residents, turning them into research subjects.

The defendant, Jerry Rea, was formerly a superintendent of the center, brought in by the state of Iowa from another Kansas facility. In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs declared that Rea was intent on converting the state-owned facility into a clinical research center through medical experimentation including “sexual arousal research” on what can be described as highly vulnerable subject, reports Kansas’ Salina Post.

The Lawsuit

Dr. John Heffron and Dr. Michael Langenfeld, two former Glenwood doctors, as well as former employees (assistant superintendent, guardian for the two patients, director of quality management and nurse practitioner), filed the case in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, Western Division. The suit names former DHS Director Jerry Foxhoven who resigned at the request of Iowa Gov Kim Reynolds; Richard Shults, director of the Iowa Department of Human Services Division of Mental Health and Disability Service, Rhea who was terminated in December 2019 and Mohammad Rehman, Glenwood Medical Director still employed there.

The Claim

The rogue investigators, if the claims are true, involve violations of federal civil rights and whistleblower laws, wrongful termination and interference with a doctor-patient relationship, reports the Salina Post. Moreover, the defendants acted in a conspiratorial manner to not only silence potential whistleblowers, but also to punish and retaliate against them simply for voicing their serious concerns to the management at the Glenwood Resource Center, their state superiors and other officials.

Government Keeping Quiet

A spokesperson for Gov. Reynolds declared she would not comment on this action, nor would DHS’s spokesman Matt Highland, as they declared there is a policy not to comment on pending litigation.

Problems Start with the Hire of Rea

Apparently, Rea, a child psychologist from Kansas, was brought on board to oversee the center. At the time of hire, he served a Kansas facility as superintendent and also was an adjunct assistant research professor with University of Kansas. Rea has a long-standing interest in sexual behavior associated with intellectual disabilities. In the suit, the plaintiffs claim that Rea, who reported to Shults, was hired based on a personal relationship with him. Rea incurred considerable costs in his attempt to transform the center into a research site, which would focus on sexual arousal investigations.

The Glenwood Resource Center

With about 200 patients, the Glenwood Resource Center was historically a psychiatric hospital for the treatment of what was known many years ago as mental retardation in the Loess Hills adjacent to Glenwood, Iowa. The facility actually goes back to the 19th century. In part of the state of Iowa Department of Health Services, it outlines its mission as to “prepare and support individuals to live in the community of their choice.”

It was reported by the Salina Post that back in 2004 that the U.S. Department of Justice investigated the facility and ultimately required a settlement due to challenges with the environment including possibly the reckless use of physical restraints. Moreover, the DOJ mandated that the center obtain informed consent from guardians for residents as well as implement reforms for improved care—such as the use of interdisciplinary treatment and care teams and the implementation of policies and procedures to enforce use of medical standards. By 2010, the facility was “in compliance.”

Did the I/DD Provider become a Rogue Research Center?

The plaintiffs argue that Rea, seeking to become a research investigator, sought to transform the center into a research site, citing he would transform Glenwood “from a facility focused on patient care, into a research facility to further Defendant Rea’s longstanding interest in clinical research involving sexual arousal and sexual deviancy, among other things.” 

In what can only be considered shocking and outrageous behavior, if the allegations are true, Rea sought to use patients as “guinea pigs” in sexual arousal experimentation. Although details are not elaborated on in the claim, it is claimed that Rea and his twisted research team bought various research “tools” from photos and computers, software and a joystick to other devices and tools for purposes of “research.” One of the plaintiffs, Kathy King, a former employee and guardian, declared that the rogue researchers brought lubricant, silk sheets, boxers and other items, reported the Des Moines Register.

Moreover, the plaintiffs argue no informed consent was elicited from patients hence if the research experiments were in fact occurring, blatant ethics violations occurred ongoing. It was reported that officials had to scramble to get informed consent after the fact once they learned of a DOJ investigation. Shults overruled on a complaint from plaintiff and Kelly Brodie, former assistant superintendent of treatment support.

Endangering Patients

In what can only be considered criminal if true, the non-physician research staff actually adjusted patient medication for the actual sexual arousal experiments, reports the Salina Post. The claims declare that center doctors were alarmed—how could they not be? Imagine if medication was required for the health and safety of the patient. And it is maintained that the adjustment of medications did real damage to some patients leading to the use of restraints, which violated the 2004 investigation. Finally, the doctors reported they were forced out of the facility and the levels of quality only degraded while the risk to patients increased.

The Defendants

Jerry Rea, former superintendent (terminated 2019)

DHS Director Jerry Foxhoven who resigned at the request of Iowa Gov Kim Reynolds

Richard Shults, director of the Iowa Department of Human Services Division of Mental Health and Disability Service

Mohammad Rehman, Glenwood Medical Director

Call to Action: If this turns out to be true, TrialSite News will pursue those that let this occur while vulnerable, disabled patients were put at grave risk.

Source: Salina Post

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