Gov. refuses to place IVH commandant on leave

When Dan Steen was commandant at the Iowa Veterans Home, a resident alleged that Steen had assaulted him. The governor restricted his access to residents.

Steen was sitting in on a resident council meeting when the situation turned ugly.

“It got a little rowdy between one resident and the president of the resident council,” Steen said. “It got to a point where the resident in the audience was charging up to the front of the room, and I got between them.”

Steen, the last non-interim commandant prior to IVH Commandant David Worley, put his hand on the man’s shoulder, and the resident claimed Steen had abused him. Not long after, Gov. Chet Culver’s chief of staff contacted Steen, saying an investigation would ensue and Steen was to have no contact with residents until he was cleared of the charge.

In retrospect, Steen said the governor should have removed him from the 598-resident nursing home even though the governor eventually determined the charge was unfounded.

However, amid far more serious allegations of sexual harassment and intimidation, Gov. Terry Branstad has refused to suspend Worley. During a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee meeting last week, multiple witnesses, many of whom worked at IVH for decades, testified to Worley’s lack of character as a leader, saying his domineering tendencies filter down to employees and negatively impact resident care.

“I wouldn’t ask anything different of Worley than what happened to me,” Steen said.

At that hearing, Sen. Steve Sodders, D-State Center, called for action and punctuated it with a letter to Branstad’s office calling for a more in-depth investigation of Worley.

The governor said Monday that Worley’s critics, i.e., Democrats, are stirring up controversy toward political ends.

Tim Albrecht, communications director for Branstad’s office, said the governor has taken great pains to review every allegation made against Worley and has found the claims to be without merit. Both the governor and lieutenant governor have visited the home several times and have yet to find a single substantial claim that compromises resident care, he said.

“It’s an overly political move designed to make the administration look bad,”Albrecht said. “Look at who is making the allegations.”

In an email, Scott Bonk, an eight-year resident at IVH, wrote that he has never experienced the behavior Worley’s critics allege. Bonk chose to communicate through email because a throat trache inhibits his ability to speak. He wrote that Worley treats him well, attends IVH’s church ceremony on Sundays and helps residents return to their rooms afterward.

“He is always willing to listen to all my complains (sic), and does something about them so the problems don’t happen again,” Bonk wrote. “I don’t know who says they are ashamed to be here I am not.”

But Sodders said many of the allegations are more than second-hand information as the governor claims. They are specific instances that have been documented by the Department of Administrative Affairs, a branch of Branstad’s office.

Culver appointed Worley commandant in 2010.

Steen said any government appointment is ladled with political overtones, but he has worked with many of those who have pointed fingers at Worley, and he finds them to be credible professionals.

“I find it disrespectful of the governor to say he doesn’t believe them,” Steen said. “The governor needs to do the right thing.”

And the “right thing” is to suspend Worley and conduct an investigation, he added.

Even Worley’s critics applauded Branstad’s recent appointment of retired Brig. Gen. Jodi Tymeson as chief operating officer, a newly created position.

However, even with Tymeson at IVH, the push for an investigation is far from over, Sodders said. He said he will continue to fight for the residents and employees at IVH. Claims that the issue is somehow political baffle him.

“(The governor) is trying to divert attention from the real problems out there,” he said. “I don’t know how this is political. I didn’t bring this forward.”

Since Branstad said he will not remove Worley, Sodders said he anticipates the issue to work its way to the Senate Government Oversight Committee, chaired by Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines. Petersen did not return a call a press time to comment on the status of any potential investigation by that committee.