A task force appointed by the governor continued its work today to develop recommendations for how Iowa should change its laws regarding the employment of people with mental retardation.
Representatives from six state agencies have been reviewing current regulations following the revelation that mentally retarded workers at an Atalissa turkey processing plant were paid as little as 44-cents an hour while living in substandard housing.
The head of the Iowa Department of Human Services, Gene Gessow, says his review of existing statutes shows the state has few rules in place to protect dependent adults from abuse. Gessow says, "Perhaps we spend less time on prevention and how to identify risk ahead of time, how to protect against risk ahead of time, and once we find a risky situation how do we deal with it on both an immediate basis and the how do we find a long-term, safe environment."
The task force will meet weekly over the next month and present its recommendations to Governor Culver by April First. Governor Culver issued this statement prior to today’s meeting and in the wake of new allegations of wrongdoing by the administrators of the bunkhouse:
"Under several different administrations, concerns were raised about the situation in Atalissa. And while it’s hard to second-guess what did or did not take place in the past, one thing is clear: every level of government bureaucracy has failed these men since 1974.
"My immediate focus is on getting to the bottom of how and why this situation happened, and to make sure it never happens again. I believe my Administration has acted swiftly.
Within 36 hours of my office being notified, the bunkhouse was shut down by the State Fire Marshall. We then quickly moved these 21 men to a proper residential care facility in Waterloo. In addition, I have spoken to family members and assured them these men will be treated fairly with dignity and respect, and that their rights under the law will be protected."
"Our Department of Criminal Investigation is conducting a full and complete investigation to make sure there is accountability for those responsible. I have directed the Department of Administrative Services to begin a process to help determine if there was misconduct by current or former state employees."
"And I’ve created a multi-agency task force, chaired by the Department of Elder Affairs director John McCalley, and have directed it to thoroughly review our laws and policies, and recommend necessary changes. "
"The fact that this was allowed to go on for decades is completely unacceptable. However, I will do all I can to make sure it will never happen in the future as long as I am Governor."