More than 60 years later, Carol Henderson can still recall vivid details of her first visit to the Glenwood Resource Center.
The callous way the doctor paraded out patients on stage for her freshman class from Treynor High School to see. The dull gray walls of the corridors. The cold, cavernous brick dormitories.
“It really scared me,” said Henderson, 76, of her 1948 visit to the Glenwood Resource Center. “We were in this big auditorium and he (the doctor) brought patients out so we could see them. I had never seen anyone who was retarded before, I was just a stupid little country girl. It was really eye opening.”
Henderson, who along with her husband Bob, and about two dozen other members of the Glenwood State Bank Heritage Club, toured the Glenwood Resource Center last Tuesday. Needless to say, Henderson’s second tour of the facility went far better than her first.
“I think its fantastic here,” said Henderson, who has been using the swimming pool on the campus since 1999 but had never officially toured the facility. “I think everybody should come up here and see it for themselves. I think a lot of people see this place like it was in the 1950s, like an institution. But it’s really more like a hospital.”
The visit is one of several the GRC is promoting to create awareness of the facility in light of a series of media reports questioning the deaths of 13 clients over the last 13 months at the facility and several state and federal probes alleging mismanagement at the state’s largest facility for the mentally handicapped.
Kelly Brodie, interim superintendent of the Glenwood Resource Center, said tours have always been available, but the facility has been trying to reach out to more state legislators, community groups and citizens to come see the facility for themselves and create awareness. Brodie admits the bad press and that lack of awareness of the facility’s mission was a primary catalyst for promoting the tours.
“It’s always my goal to get people to see what we do here,” said Brodie, who took over her interim duties last October. “I think if people come up here and see what we do, they get a much different impression of our facility than if they just read about us. And that’s certainly why we’ve been encouraging legislators and really everyone in Iowa to come up here.”
The 133-year, 1,200 acre facility has a long history as one of Iowa’s original social service hospitals for the mentally handicapped. Opened originally as a home for orphaned children of civil war veterans before becoming the Iowa Asylum for Feeble-minded Children, the facility officially adopted the name the Glenwood Resource Center in 2000 after years of being the Glenwood State Hospital.
The 24-building main campus was once entirely self-sufficient with its own dairy, vegetable farm, hospital, fire station and power station. Today, while not quite that independent, the facility prides itself on having everything every client would need for the best possible care in addition to its own vocational training, treatment facilities, greenhouse and recycling center. The facility employs 934 staff, more than half in direct care on duty 24 hours a day.
The client population at the facility peaked at nearly 2,000 in 1935. Clients number about 315 now – ranging in age from 9 to 98 – and are no longer stockpiled in the campus dormitories. The facility began forgoing dormitory-style housing in the early-1980s, replacing it with 37 free standing homes, or cottages, of which 25 are used for client housing. The other 12 are used for therapy, temporary housing for visitors, recreation and a hospice.
The facility spends about $660 per client, per day for care.
The tour included visits to a few of the facility’s more than 50 on-campus buildings, including a walking tour of two “community-style” client housing units.
House 248 is home to 14 high-functioning, mentally handicapped boys and men in their late teens and early 20s. Some go to school, others work on vocational skills. All help clean the house, cook the meals and work toward self-sufficiency.
The residents of House 468 represent a contrast in client quality of life and the varying degrees of treatment required 24 hours a day at the Glenwood Resource Center. All of the clients in 468 are wheelchair-bound and are fed through feeding tubes. Most of the clients are medically fragile in addition to being severely mentally handicapped and most will spend the rest of their lives in the facility.
Karen Willison is one of those who provides direct care. She’s a resident treatment supervisor at house 248. Most of the clients in her unit call her “Mom.” She sees her role as a facilitator for a group of clients she calls “my boys.”
“Our goal here is to get them to move on and learn skills so they can get out on their own some day,” said Willison, who has worked as a treatment supervisors for 12 years.
Maxine Crossley, a registered nurse, has been on the GRC campus several times before but never witnessed the behind-the-scenes operation she saw on Tuesday’s tour.
“The things I saw the most was care,” she said. “You can’t fake that. You can really feel how they care for (the clients).”
That’s what Brodie hopes more Glenwood residents and Iowans can witness in the tours. She encourages anyone who has never seen the GRC to come up, take a look around and judge for themselves.
“That would be great, I welcome it. The more people the merrier,” said Brodie. “I know some people who have come up on various activities and have decided to become involved in our foster grandparent program or in other fashions. We’ve had people donate things after seeing the work we do. The more people we can get up here, the better.”
A group of state legislators visited the campus earlier this year. The Heritage Club is the first community group to tour. Other groups have expressed interest, Brodie said. Response to what the groups have seen has been “very positive.”
“I think a lot of people have preconceived notions about what our facility and the people who live here are like, and once they get up here, its pretty enlightening for them to see how comprehensive the facility is, to see the living environment for the people who live here. I think a lot of people still have the impression folks are kept in these large brick buildings, in ward situations.
“I think they’re surprised to go out to see they’re living in family-style homes and they’re nicely maintained and they have individual rooms. I think overall people are generally surprised because perceptions don’t match reality when they get up here.”
Diana Hoogestraat, social work administrator for the GRC, came to work at GRC fresh out of college 40 years ago this November. She said the differences now and then are night and day.
“Things have gotten a lot better,” she said.
Hoogestraat pointed to the facility’s community-style housing program, its improved assessment and treatment and its “waiver home” program as major positives in the last decade.
The GRC currently provides nine homes to former clients as part of the Iowa Home and Community-Based Service Waiver Program, or “waiver homes.” The program provides self-sufficient living for up to four former GRC clients who work, pay their own bills and learn to live on their own with the assistance of Medicaid.
Like Hoogestraat, Jill Fender has worked at the GRC most of her adult life, first being hired as part of a work-study program as a junior at Glenwood Community High School in 1973. The average tenure of GRC employees is 20 years.
Fender has served as a resident treatment supervisor since 1994 with some of the facility’s most at-risk clients. Most of her clients, who vary in age from 18 to the late 50s, have no verbal skills but that doesn’t stop her or her staff from bonding with the 15 clients they serve.
“People are living longer here now because of how we are to learn and treat each client,” she said. “We know now how to lay this client down or how to lift this client or what this client needs. It’s all part of knowing the clients.”
It’s tough work she says, but worth it in the end.
“We give a lot, but we get a lot back too,” Fender said. “Some of these people have been here most of their lives and we get to know their families. We get to know and care about them.”
Hoogestraat feels that criticism the GRC has faced in recent years is easy without seeing what she and Fender have seen everyday at the facility. Bad news is always a good story, she says. Understanding what she and her co-workers do at the facility, that’s a harder sell.
“The press and some people have been hard on us,” Hoogestraat said. “But our greatest strengths have always been our families and anybody who comes to visit and sees what we do. Don’t judge us until you meet us.”