July 4, 2015

Former ISU researcher who faked AIDS experiments sentenced to prison

A former Iowa State University researcher who admitted he faked data to make it appear an experimental AIDS vaccine was working will serve nearly 5 years in prison.

Fifty-seven-year-old Dong Pyou Han had been charged with four counts of making a false statement and ended up pleading guilty to two counts. Prosecutors say Han spiked the blood of rabbits with components of human blood to make it appear the AIDS vaccine he was testing was working.

Han admitted in his plea that the false data was reported to the National Institutes of Health, which had provided 19 million dollars for the research. He was sentenced to 57 months in prison and ordered to pay back just over 7 million dollars.


Clarinda and Mount Pleasant MHI’s now closed

Former employees at Mount Pleasant released luminaries after the facility closed.

Former employees at Mount Pleasant MHI released luminaries after the facility closed.

The state-run Mental Health Institutes in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant were officially shut down last night as the fiscal year came to an end.

Governor Terry Branstad has led the charge to close the facilities and shift to community-based mental health services.

Former employees at the Mount Pleasant MHI released floating luminaries as the final employee clocked out just before midnight. Anna Short, a former drug abuse counselor at the facility, told KCRG-TV the event made the closing “real” both for her and her former co-workers.

“It’s done and it’s sad,” Short said. “It’s not just co-workers, it’s your family.” Workers moved the final patients out of the Mount Pleasant MHI late last week. All of the workers, in both Mount Pleasant and Clarinda, have been laid off. The state legislature approved a budget that would keep the MHIs open for up to another year, but the governor is expected to veto that part of the budget.

Monday is the final day for the governor to make decisions about funding bills legislators sent to his desk. Danny Homan, the head of the union that represents the largest share of state employees, has said he believes Governor Branstad’s actions are in violation of state law and the collective bargaining agreement. It’s anticipated that AFSCME Iowa Council 61 will be part of a lawsuit challenging the governor’s call to shutdown the two MHIs.

AFSCME Iowa Council 61 President Danny Homan issued the following statement about the shutdown of Mt. Pleasant and Clarinda Mental Health Institutes:

“Last night, at midnight, the Mt. Pleasant and Clarinda Mental Health Institutes closed their doors and the entire staff was laid off. This is a sad moment for the people of Iowa, especially those patients and families that need the services provided by these two facilities. The real losers here are the patients and the citizens of the state of Iowa. Residents of southern Iowa no longer have these two excellent facilities as an option for the care of their loved ones facing mental health challenges. Iowa’s mental health safety net has been made weaker by the choices the governor has made. To the employees of these facilities, who have provided excellent treatment to patients for many years, I’m very sorry the governor has decided to take this action. I believe not only has he violated the collective bargaining agreement by his actions of laying everyone off effective at the end of June, but I also believe he is in violation of a state law and we will take the appropriate action and attempt to fix this situation. The governor has chosen to ignore the advice of patients, their families, mental health professionals, legislators, employees, and community leaders. He should be ashamed of the decision he made to shut down these facilities.


Strong hint AFSCME will sue governor over MHI closures

AFSCMEE president Danny Homan. (file photo)

AFSCMEE president Danny Homan. (file photo)

The head of the union that represents the largest share of state employees is in southwest Iowa today meeting with workers who’re being laid off from the state-run Mental Health Institute in Clarinda. AFSCME Council 61 President Danny Homan said his message to the 53 employees serving their last two days is simple.

“I’m very sorry the governor has decided to take this action. I believe not only has he violated the collective bargaining agreement by his actions of laying everyone off effective at the end of the day June 30, but I also believe he is violation of a state law,” Homan said. “And we will take the appropriate action and attempt to fix this situation.”

That’s the strongest hint yet that Homan’s union will be part of a lawsuit challenging the governor’s call to shut-down Clarinda’s Mental Health Institute, as well as the one in Mount Pleasant. Homan says this situation is different than the one his union faced in Toledo with the shutdown of the Iowa Juvenile Home. AFSCME filed a lawsuit in that case that went all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court, but the court did not rule in the union’s favor and order that the home be reopened.

“I believe what the Supreme Court said is the issue was moot because there was no funding appropriated for the Toledo Juvenile Home,” Homan said. “That’s not the case here. Funding has been approved by the Iowa Legislature for both the Clarinda and the Mount Pleasant MHI’s. I believe that is, I hope that is a significant enough difference to where the outcome will be different if in fact this gets in front of the Supreme Court again.”

Homan said despite the disruption to the affected workers and the economic hit to Clarinda, the real losers in this case are the patients.

“The real losers in this process are the citizens of the state of Iowa,” Homan said, “the citizens of southwestern Iowa who no longer have a facility to take someone who is having a chronic episode of a mental health issue.”

Homan said Iowa lags behind other states in mental health care options and the absence of replacement community based services will only worsen the situation. Clarinda’s MHI has offered care to elderly patients with a mental illness who are too frail or violent to be cared for in a private facility, like a nursing home. Mount Pleasant’s MHI has had a residential treatment program for patients with the dual diagnosis of a mental illness and a substance abuse problem.

(Reporting by Chuck Morris, KMA, Shenandoah)

Cruz blasts Supreme Court, explains his vote against ‘fast track’

Republican Presidential Candidate Ted Cruz is on a campaign swing through the state this weekend. Cruz, who is a first-term Texas Senator, told an audience of 200 in Pierson Friday night that the U.S. Supreme Court is exhibiting a “pattern of lawlessness” this week, starting with its ruling Thursday on “ObamaCare.”

“Six justices of the United States Supreme Court committed a naked and shameless act of judicial activism,” Cruz said. “What they did was fundamentally lawless….They rewrote the law and, in doing so, violated their judicial oath and effectively joined the Obama Administration enforcing this failed law.”

And after the court’s ruling on Friday morning making same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states, Cruz began calling for a constitutional amendment

“We are not governed by a judicial priesthood,” Cruz said. “We are not governed by judicial tyranny and when five lawyers believe they know better than 320 million Americans and seize sovereignty, it is incumbent upon us to take that power back.”

Cruz proposes retention elections for justices on the United States Supreme Court.

“So that when they violate the constitution and the law, the American people can remove them from their post,” Cruz said, to applause.

Iowa is among the 20 states which have retention elections for the judges in state courts. Three members of the Iowa Supreme Court were voted off the bench in 2010 after the joined the court’s unanimous 2009 decision which legalized same-sex marriage in Iowa. A fourth justice who joined in that ruling won his retention vote in 2012. The justice who wrote the Varnum decision is currently the court’s chief justice.

This past week in the U.S. Senate, Cruz switched his position on trade promotion authority for the president, which he had supported, and instead voted against giving President Obama that “fast track” authority to negotiate trade agreements.

“I’m a strong supporter of free trade,” Cruz said. “Like Ronald Reagan, I believe when we open up foreign markets it benefits American farmers, American ranchers, American manufacturers. It produces jobs and economic growth and so, initially, the first time the Senate took up what’s called trade promotion authority, I supported it. However, in the months since then there have been two significant changes.”

Cruz points to the Wikileaks release of some of the text of a proposed trade agreement which Cruz said would “explicitly” change U.S. immigration laws.

“No over and over again the administration had been saying it wasn’t changing immigration laws,” Cruz said. “I had introduced in the Senate a strong amendment to prevent any trade deal from affecting immigration law and, if it attempted to, have it not be subject to fast track. That amendment was blocked in the senate and was not added to TPA.”

And Cruz accuses Republican leaders in congress of making a deal with some Democrats to pass trade promotion authority along with reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank to get Democratic votes. Cruz says the Export-Import Bank is “corporate welfare” because it guarantees loans to U.S. corporations that do business in developing countries.

Both of Iowa’s Republican Senators voted in favor of giving President Obama trade promotion authority.

Last night’s event was hosted by Bill Anderson, a state senator from Pierson and, as the crowd in Pierson’s city park munched on grilled pork loin sandwiches, Anderson announced he was endorsing Cruz.

(Reporting in Pierson by Dennis Morrice, KLEM, Le Mars; additional reporting and editing by Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson)

Branstad hints at end for MHIs in southern Iowa

Governor Terry Brasntad has until July 6 to make final decisions on the entire state budget outline legislators sent him earlier this month, but Branstad’s giving strong hints he’ll reject the legislature’s plan to keep the Mental Health Institutes in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant open.

“I would point out Iowa was late to get serious about redesigning our mental health system,” Branstad said this afternoon. “Other states like Minnesota went from 11 institutions to one. They’ve done that. Wisconsin has reduced the number of institutions. So has Nebraska and Illinois — most of our neighboring states.”

Already last week layoff notices were sent to 28 employees at the state-run Mental Health Institute in Mount Pleasant and 53 MHI employees in Clarinda. Branstad told reporters today that he wants to “move forward” and shift to community-based mental health services.

“We haven’t made a final decision, but I have shared my philosophy and my goals to have a better system that better meets the mental health needs of Iowans and I believe makes more sense,” Branstad said.

Branstad made his comments this afternoon during taping of the Iowa Press program that will air tonight on Iowa Public Television.

Carson says GOP must offer ‘really appealing’ ObamaCare alternative; Congressman King reacts to ruling

Ben Carson

Ben Carson

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson said this morning he’s “deeply disappointed” in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that “ObamaCare” subsidies are legal. But Carson is urging ObamaCare opponents not to “waste time and energy mourning” the decision, but instead “redouble” the effort to get congress to repeal the law.

“We have to come out with something that is really appealing,” Carson told reporters in Sioux Center. “…That’s going to require some legislative changes, which means we’ve got to get brave people in there in leadership positions.”

Carson said it’s important to “get rid of things” in ObamaCare that are “killing the economy” and that means ending the “employer mandate” which requires businesses with 50 or more full-time employees to provide health insurance or pay a fine.

“It used to be as your company was growing, you were really happy. You got 40 and then you got 50 and then you got 100 employees. That doesn’t happen anymore. Now you get to 40 and you start backing off,” Carson said. “That antithetical to growth in our society.”

Carson made his comments after speaking to a big crowd this morning at the Fruited Plain Cafe in Sioux Center.

Congressman Steve King.

Congressman Steve King.

Iowa Congressman Steve King, a leading critic of ObamaCare, issued a video statement late this morning on the ruling.

“This is a frustrating day when you’re in the business of writing laws and watching the Supreme Court amend them at their will,” King said, “by using their own judgment on what public policy should be in the United States.”

King said when it comes to the Affordable Care Act, the court has decided to “make it up” as it goes along.

“And they have ruled, essentially, that the law doesn’t mean what it says,” King said.

This decision on “ObamaCare” was the first of two big rulings expected from the court before it recesses for the summer.

“I’m really concerned about what can happen with the decision on marriage,” King said. “They’ll likely conclude that the Constitution doesn’t mean what it says either.”

Senator Chuck Grassley, the senior member of Iowa’s congressional delegation, issued a written statement late this morning. Grassley said he respect the court, but Grassley said ObamaCare “remains a terrible law” and he is “committed to repealing and replacing it with effective reforms driven by the marketplace, not the heavy hand of government.”

Congressman Dave Loebsack, the only Democrat in Iowa’s congressional delegation, called today’s decision “a big relief for the thousands of Iowa families who would have faced large, unforeseen, out of pocket increases in their health care costs.” Loebsakc said in his written statement that it’s time to “move forward and work to strengthen this law, not continue to try and dismantle it.”

Congressman David Young of Van Meter, one of Iowa’s two rookie Republicans in the U.S. House, issued a statement this afternoon saying there are “real problems with the Affordable Care Act” and it “needs to be repealed and replaced with a common sense patient-centered solution.”

Senator Joni Ernst was the first member of Iowa’s congressional delegation to react today. Read her statement here, along with analysis from a University of Iowa law professor. Freshman Congressman Rod Blum, a Republican from Dubuque, has not released a statement on today’s ruling.

Two other GOP presidential candidates are campaigning in the state today. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee called the ruling “an act of judicial tyranny” and he says congress should “admit they screwed up” and repeal the law. Rick Santorum will be in Glenwood this evening. The former Pennsylvania senator calls the ruling a “reminder” that in order to get rid of ObamaCare, the nation must elect a “conservative president.”

(Reporting in Sioux Center and Ben Carson photo by Doug Broek of KSOU Radio)

(This post was updated at 1:31 p.m. with additional information.)

Bipartisan group pleads with Branstad: keep the MHIs open

Rich Taylor

Rich Taylor

A bipartisan group of state and local leaders held a news conference in Mount Pleasant Tuesday afternoon to urge Governor Branstad to keep the Mental Health Institutes in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda open.

A budget bill awaiting Branstad’s review would keep the Mount Pleasant and Clarinda MHIs open for a few more months, contrary to Branstad’s January decision to close the two facilities by June 30. Steve Brimhall, the mayor of Mount Pleasant, said the two Mental Health Institutes in southern Iowa provide critical services not available elsewhere.

“So until a good alternative can be worked out and agreed upon by the governor and the legislature, I urge the governor to sign Senate File 505,” Brimhall said.

Iowa Wesleyan College president Steven Titus said he’s proud of the nursing students at his college who lobbied legislators to keep the MHIs open.

“As a relative newcomer to Iowa, I have to say I was a bit surprised and a bit alarmed at the lack of mental health services in southeast Iowa,” Titus said, “and so now the thought of closing an additional facility that’s been around for over a century to help provide those services really causes me even more alarm and concern.”

Senator Amanda Ragan, a Democrat, drove from Mason City to Mount Pleasant to participate in the news conference and tout the “bipartisan compromise” legislators passed to keep the two MHIs open.

“According to Iowa psychiatrists and health care professionals, we’ve heard our state suffers from a mental health crisis,” Ragan said. “…They’re quite frankly surprised at this plan for closure.”

Travis Kraus, vice president of the Mount Pleasant Chamber of Commerce, read a prepared statement, saying there’s a need to enhance, improve and expand mental health care.

“As a minimum, the Mount Pleasant Mental Health Institute should remain open in order to provide an opportunity for thoughtful discussion and coordination regarding changes in existing conditions,” Kraus said.

Representative Dave Heaton, a Republican from Mount Pleasant, pounded his hand on the lectern as he sent this message to the governor: “Let this facility live!” And the crowd applauded.

Senator Rich Taylor, a Democrat from Mount Pleasant, organized the gathering.

“It’s not that I’m not willing to change,” Taylor said. “If there is a better way, I’m all for it. I’d work toward that, but today no one has a better plan.”

Governor Branstad has said the MHIs are antiquated and should be closed. Branstad may have tipped his hand last week on the issue because layoff notices were sent to 28 MHI workers in Mount Pleasant and 53 MHI employees in Clarinda. That doesn’t please Senator Taylor.

“Sending out pink slips really kind of ticked me off,” Taylor said.

Heaton said he’s not going to be “an alarmist” about the layoffs.

“Just because the pink slips go out does not water down my optimism that he will sign this bill and provide the facilities we so desperately need here in southeast Iowa,” Heaton said.

Legislators voted to keep the Mount Pleasant facility open for another year and keep the Clarinda Mental Health Institute open through mid-December, in hopes of finding a private company that would come in to operate the facility. Branstad has ’til July 6th to decide whether to accept that alternative. Heaton made an impassioned plea at the close of yesterday’s news conference.

“He should respond to the legislative will and sign this bill and allow this facility to be open,” Heaton said. “Why swim against the current?”

Critics of the closures say they are considering a lawsuit if Branstad follows through and closes the facilities. Branstad had planned to speak to Mount Pleasant’s Rotary Club at noon today, but Branstad’s staff says the governor had to cancel in order to be in Kansas City Thursday morning for an EPA hearing on the Renewable Fuels Standard.