Impact Of GRC Closure Will Be Felt Throughout Community

Gov. Kim Reynolds announced the Glenwood Resource Center will close in 2024.

The mother of a resident at the Glenwood Resource Center (GRC) said she was “shocked and surprised” when she received an e-mail Thursday announcing the closure of the state-managed facility that provides care for persons with profound intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“They (Iowa Department of Human Services) had just told us within the last couple months there were no plans to close the facility,” Sybil Finken said. “Then, we got an email (Thursday) about five minutes before the governor let the newspapers know.”

On Thursday, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver and House Speaker Pat Grassley announced the state intends to close GRC in 2024.  

According to a news release from the Iowa Department of Human Services (IDHS), the GRC will continue to provide care for residents over the next two years while working with their guardians and families to transition them to community placements or the Woodward Resource Center.  

Finken’s son Seth, who will turn 43 this month, has lived at the GRC for nearly 40 years of his life. Finken says she’s uncertain what the GRC closure will mean for her son.

“I really don’t want him to go halfway across the state to Woodward but there’s nothing in this area of the state that’s suitable for Seth’s needs unless somebody comes in with an ICP (Intermediate Care Facility). That’s what Glenwood and Woodward are,” she said. “There are some private ones throughout the state. It’s a level of care that people with profound disabilities require.”

The GRC currently houses around 150 residents and employs over 400 workers.

The state’s announcement said “existing staff members will be critical in supporting a smooth transition for residents and, as such, will be offered retention incentives to continue working at GRC during this time.”  According to a posting on the IDHS website, current GRC employees who continue working at the facility will receive a lump sum retention bonus of $1,500 every seventh pay period. IDHS said it will also assist staff in identifying new career opportunities in Iowa as their employment nears an end.  
Finken said staff members she’s spoken to are devastated, not just for themselves but also for the GRC residents who will be uprooted from their homes.

“They are heartbroken,” she said. “Not just because they are losing their jobs. They’re heartbroken because they are losing what they consider to be like their family.”

Glenwood Mayor Ron Kohn said he, too, was surprised by Thursday’s announcement, but he’s hopeful the state will live up to its promise of assisting GRC residents, families and employees during the transition period.

“It impacts a lot of households. There’s going to be a lot of people who have financial challenges coming about because of this,” Kohn said. “It’s the largest employer (in the city). I’m not sure how many people within the city limits are employed up there but I’m sure there’s a significant number. For those folks, I hope the state will treat them fairly.”

Reynolds said the state will work with local government officials and community leaders to minimize the impact the closure has on the Glenwood community and Mills County and to identify alternative uses for the GRC campus after the facility closes.  

Several buildings on the GRC campus are currently being leased by outside agencies, including the Glenwood Community School District, Glen Haven Village skilled nursing and On With Life. What impact the closure has on those agencies remains to be seen, but Glenwood Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rachel Reis she’s been told they’ll be allowed to stay on the campus.

“What I was told by the state is that their goal is to make sure that the organizations that reside up there currently are left and able to continue up there,” Reis said.

Kohn and Reis both are hopeful some positive opportunities will come out of the closure down the road. Reis stressed the importance of the community working cooperatively with the state and pulling together locally to limit the negative impact.

“How do we make sure we are a supportive community and how do we move through what feels like another crisis?” she said. “If we can figure out a way to navigate through it, I think there’s a possibility of something really good coming out of it but it all comes down to everybody working together.”

Reis said the chamber’s role during the closure process will be advocating for existing agencies/organizations occupying space on the GRC campus and providing assistance to GRC workers who are seeking employment opportunities in southwest Iowa.

Throughout the transition period, IDHS says it will work with care providers statewide to build the resources needed to ensure access to the full continuum of care for Iowans with disabilities.   

The closure announcement noted the Department of Justice’s two-part investigation into Iowa’s state-operated resource centers for the time period spanning from 2017 through 2020, focusing on serious allegations involving GRC and the state’s over-reliance on institutional settings for serving individuals with disabilities. Reynolds said IDHS has worked cooperatively with the DOJ throughout the investigation and has implemented its own improvements to address concerns.  

Thursday’s announcement stated, “Despite the progress that has been made, significant challenges remain. While negotiations with the DOJ continue, the expectations that have been outlined for services, workforce, and additional investment at GRC cannot be attained and sustained long term at the facility. Accordingly, in line with its commitment to serving individuals in the least restrictive setting, the state will enhance support to community providers as it simultaneously looks to expand services at Woodward Resource Center, making it a central point of care delivery and coordination for vulnerable Iowans.”

Reynolds said the decision to close the GRC was made with careful consideration.

“While necessary, the decision to close the Glenwood Resource Center is a difficult one that I take very seriously. For many residents, it’s the only home they’ve ever known. I am fully committed to a seamless and successful transition of care for them, their families and the staff at Glenwood,” Reynolds said. “Iowans with intellectual and developmental disabilities deserve quality care that aligns with the expectations of the DOJ. Our best path forward to achieve those standards is closing GRC and reinvesting in a community-based care continuum that offers a broad array of services. That’s what we’re prepared to do to continue to meet the needs of Iowans.”  

IDHS staff will meet with guardians, family members and staff and continue to provide updates and critical information as work progresses toward closing GRC.

Kohn and Reis said there are still many questions to be answered.

“This is still unfolding,” Reis said. “We don’t know everything, yet. Like any disaster or any crisis, we’re going to know more in the coming weeks and that will help us make better, well-informed decisions.”

The Opinion-Tribune

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