The state senator who represents the town of Atalissa says he may have been “misled” by West Liberty Foods about the living conditions for a group of mentally retarded men, all of whom worked at the plant and all of whom have been moved out of a 105-year-old home owned by the City of Atalissa.
A Texas company rented the home and state officials say West Liberty Foods withheld most of the mens’ pay, turning it over to “Henry’s Turkey Service” to pay the mens’ living expenses and provide other services.
Senator Jim Hahn, a Republican from Muscatine, represents the area. “I’ve known this situation only from the outside. I’ve seen a number of these people come through the West Liberty Fair and it’s about the only time I’ve ever seen ’em,” Hahn says. “They do work long hours. They do a tremendous job for the factory and I’m not really pleased with what’s happening. I’ve not really heard any of this before.”
Hahn says the men need “special care” and he can understand why the doors to the facility may have been locked, because the men could have wandered away. “I do realize that we may have to take a look at this….I didn’t know the conditions were so deplorable,” Hahn says. “…I thought they were treated fairly from what I had heard from some of the people that were around West Liberty. Maybe I was misled.”
Experts have met with each of the 21 men who were living in the home when it was closed Saturday, and each has been classified as a dependent adult. State officials are trying to find a place where all 21 can live together, as they’ve lived in the Atalissa home, together, for about two decades. Hahn suggests the men will find it hard to adjust to a new living situation.
“These folks have been given (an) opportunity, that if it’s taken away from them, they will be probably in a home someplace where they’re going to be confined probably worse than they are now, not able to get a job,” Hahn says. “So there are some pluses there, but I realize there are some problems, also.”
The head of the Iowa Department of Human Services says West Liberty Foods has been scaling down its workforce and a few dozen mentally retarded men who had lived in the home were recently moved out.