Documents: Sexual experiments on disabled patients planned at state facility

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A recently retired official overseeing Iowa’s mental health and disability services programs knew almost two years ago of plans to perform sexual experiments at a state-run institution, document released Monday indicate.

The Iowa Department of Human Services released letters, emails, a power point presentation and other documents that indicate top management of the agency knew of serious management problems at the Glenwood Resource Center. The documents show increasing concerns by nurses, doctors and other staff members about sexual arousal experiments on patients.

An email written to Rick Shults on May 21, 2018, shows he approved of a research plan drawn up by Jerry Rea, the former superintendent at Glenwood who was fired in December.

A DHS employee in charge of purchases wrote the email to Shults asking to buy computer software for Rea to conduct sexual arousal studies on patients at Glenwood, a facility 115 miles (185 kilometers) southwest of Des Moines that cares for about 250 individuals with intellectual disabilities.

It detailed the research Rea was engaged in that “has implications for treatment of sexual preoccupation issues” for patients at Glenwood and a separate state facility that holds sexual offenders.

“Nice write up. Yes, I approve. Please keep the justification and my approval should questions arise later,” Shults responded. Shults as director of the DHS Division of Mental Health and Disability Service, had broad oversight of the DHS mental health programs including Glenwood and other facilities. He retired last month.

The pitch went on to discuss use of a penile device used for measuring arousal and said if the research was successful it could be used at other locations including a state mental health facility at Cherokee and a civil commitment location for sex offenders in Kansas.

The release of the documents comes after two doctors and four other former Glenwood employees filed a federal civil rights lawsuit earlier this month against DHS and several top officials, alleging a conspiracy to silence complaints about the sexual arousal research.

The allegations center on Rea who was hired in 2017 by the state of Iowa from Kansas. Lawsuit plaintiffs claim Rea was determined to turn the state-owned facility into a research center through medical experimentation, including “sexual arousal research” on extremely fragile and dependent residents.

It names as defendants former DHS Director Jerry Foxhoven, who resigned in June 2019 at the request of Gov. Kim Reynolds; Shults, Rea who was fired in December; and Mohammad Rehman, Glenwood medical director, who remains on the job.

The doctors and other plaintiffs allege violations of federal civil rights and whistleblower laws, wrongful termination and interference with a doctor-patient relationship.

The U.S. Department of Justice notified the state in November that it was launching an investigation into allegations of human experimentation and other treatment concerns.

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