No justice for Gottschalk

BY ART CULLEN

The Iowa Supreme Court has informed us that the state bears no responsibility for dumping repeat geriatric sex offender William Cubbage on a private nursing home in Pomeroy. The state wanted to spring him from the sex offender unit in Cherokee to save money — kicking him to a nursing home would shift the cost of his care to the Medicaid program. So it went that William Cubbage was placed at the Pomeroy Care Center, where he raped resident Mercedes Gottschalk in her room.

Gottschalk, and later her estate, sued the state and the nursing home for failing to protect Gottschalk from a proven predator.

The high court said that the state cannot be sued for damages. It’s that simple.

It’s not right, but it’s the law on a split decision.

The state is free to jettison anyone from a secure facility to save a few bucks.

So who is left to enforce a standard of public safety?

The private nursing home.

The lawsuit against the nursing home stands. It would appear that will be the only avenue toward justice. If the estate is successful, nursing homes will have to think twice, or three times, before taking a ward of the state in an unsecure facility with unsuspecting and vulnerable residents. The care facility may point liability to the state that already has been sequestered from justice. The estate could find itself ultimately frustrated in getting things right by Mercedes Gottschalk and all the other frail elderly exposed to such gross negligence.

We are disgusted that after all these years Iowa has done nothing to address this situation.

Just what do you do with an incorrigible, senile and incompetent sex offender who continues to offend despite rehabilitation efforts?

You lock him up.

Not in a nursing home. Not at the Mental Health Institute in Independence, where he is a threat to other residents and staff — Cubbage has been accused of sexually molesting a staff worker in a shower. And not wandering the streets, a standard of care that would seem acceptable to a majority of Iowa’s highest court and governor.

Iowa needs a secure, locked facility with trained staff to handle geriatric sex offenders who are ruled incompetent. The state will not tell us how many there are. Former State Sen. Daryl Beall, D-Fort Dodge, three years ago managed to pass legislation that would call for a study identifying how many characters like Cubbage might be floating around our elderly care system. There are dozens, no doubt. Gov. Terry Branstad, R-Des Moines, vetoed the bipartisan bill ostensibly because the study would cost up to $100,000.

Hence, we do not know what sort of threat is posed. The state does not want us to know because it would scare the wits out of residents and their families to know that a predator is living next door. It would not be good business.

The state has as its most basic functions the charge to protect the public. The public has been put at risk in an effort to save money.

Enter State Sen. Mark Segebart, R-Vail, a decent and caring man who introduced a study bill last session for a secure geriatric sex offender unit. The study should be complete when the legislature reconvenes in January.

We are not sure that will motivate this legislature and Governor-designate Kim Reynolds to do what is right when they have refused over a decade.

It might take an unfavorable verdict from a district court jury in the Gottschalk Estate case. That is our prayer. An adverse judgment would finally put this state on notice that how we care for our frail elderly is an abusive disgrace. That our money grubbing led to the rape of a defenseless woman in the last stages of life. Someone must set a standard of care where the legislature will not. It has to be a jury not vested in the political system.

We wish Segebart all the best. He will attempt to come up with an honest and exhaustive look at the issue. But the entire trajectory has been to shut down state facilities, to turn care of the indigent over to the private sector, and let the market figure out how to protect and comfort the elderly. We hope the good senator can turn that ship around.

We need action for Mercedes Gottschalk. So far, Iowa disappoints.