For three decades, Iowa workers with mental retardation were paid pennies an hour, plus room and board, to work for Henry's Turkey Service. The men lived in a 106-year-old Atalissa bunkhouse, complete with boarded-up windows and space heaters for warmth. They were awakened at 2:30 a.m. to pluck feathers and pull guts from turkeys before returning to the cockroach-infested bunkhouse.
The entire situation was an embarrassment to Iowa. Equally embarrassing: The government didn't close the bunkhouse and relocate the men until after a Des Moines Register investigation publicly exposed the problems.
Instead, Iowa is one of only three states without a public guardianship program. And Iowa needs such a program. In the two years it was in existence, the office conducted training around the state on substitute decision making. It intervened in court cases involving Iowans who were exploited.
Murphy said the staff of two took "all kinds of questions" from Iowans who had family members with mental retardation or elderly parents with dementia or children diagnosed with autism.
"Now, there's no central point for people to go with those types of questions," she said.
Its closure moves Iowa in the wrong direction - particularly at this point in history.
Iowa ranks second in the nation in the percentage of residents over age 85 and at high risk for dementia, yet many have no nearby family members to help them make decisions. While Iowans with mental disabilities once lived in institutions, most now live in community-based settings, including boarding houses.
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Revive State Office to Help Vulnerable Iowans
Accused of Exploiting Mentally Retarded Workers