Decades After Willowbrook, Abuse In Residential Settings Continues

CW: Institutionalization, Abuse, Neglect, & Death:

Institutions such as the Willowbrook State School are no longer run. The number of Americans residing in such institutions has declined by more than 90% since the late 1960s. Seventeen states have closed all of their large public institutes for people with disabilities. Only five states haven’t closed any, according to a University of Minnesota researcher: Iowa, Nebraska, South Carolina, Utah, and Wyoming.

Unfortunately, abuse and neglect still occur. Facilities are often understaffed, over crowed, and unkempt. In Iowa, one facility has been ordered to close after numerous reports of abuse and neglect.

The United States Justice Department announced a settlement with the state of Iowa to resolve allegations of abuse and inadequate care at the state-run Glenwood Resource Center. The Glenwood Resource Center serves people with intellectual disabilities. The facility was founded over 150 years ago as an orphanage for Civil War soldiers’ children.

According to a proposed consent decree published by the DOJ on Thursday, an independent monitor would be appointed to assess the state’s compliance with the agreement’s requirements.

The Justice Department determined in 2020 that the institution likely violated residents’ constitutional rights by subjecting them to human experiments, including sexual arousal research, some of which were considered harmful. The report identified widespread failures at the center, including poor treatment of residents and a failure to respond by the Iowa Department of Human Services.

In 2018, 13 personnel at the facility resigned or were dismissed due to claims of abuse, and five were eventually sentenced to probation for mistreating residents. However, problems are continuing. According to state inspectors, a 30-year-old resident died in February due to acute dehydration after staff failed to monitor his fluid intake.

The order calls for more public reporting, involvement with residents’ relatives, and the appointment of an impartial monitor to judge the state’s adherence to the decree’s requirements. Gov. Kim Reynolds said that the Glenwood Resource Center, which has served vulnerable individuals since the early 1900s, will be closed by June 30, 2024.

However, many of the residents at Glenwood Resource Center are medically fragile and have extensive needs. 57-year-old Mike Lee has been a resident of Glenwood Resource Center for over 40 years. He has autism and epilepsy. There should be enough services in the community for people with various needs. People like Mike Lee deserve to have access to the resources they need to live life in the community. Too often, people who are severely disabled are forgotten about.

Everybody deserves to live in the community. Home and community-based services are provided by Medicaid. Institutional care is much more expensive than care in the community. Nationwide, there is also a shortage of home healthcare workers, which needs to be addressed because care can’t wait.


Beck, Margery A. “Feds Announce Settlement over Iowa Disability Center Abuse.” AP NEWS, Associated Press, 1 Dec. 2022,

Foreman, Joe. “History of ‘the Hill’ – Museum Exhibit Chronicles GRC History.” The Opinion-Tribune, Blackbird Publishing, 21 Apr. 2022,

Kauffman, Clark. “State-Run Glenwood Resource Center Fined for Resident Death.” Iowa Capital Dispatch, Iowa Capital Dispatch, 9 June 2022,

Leys, Tony. “As Institutions Close, Families of Longtime Residents Face Agonizing Choices.” Disability Scoop, Disability Scoop, 21 Sept. 2022,

Swanson, Kirsten. “From Group Home to Senior Living. Staffing Crisis in Minnesota’s Disability Services Forces Aging Parents into Desperate Situations.” KSTP, 4 Aug. 2022,

Weiser, Benjamin. “Beatings, Burns and Betrayal: The Willowbrook Scandal’s Legacy.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 21 Feb. 2020,

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