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Senate: IJH Should Reopen

DES MOINES, Iowa (CBS2/FOX28) -- State legislators now say they will draft a bill to reopen the Iowa Juvenile Home and Girls State Training School in Toledo.

This comes after a group of former employees and residents spent the day lobbying for the recently closed facility in the state Capitol.

Just after 11 a.m. in the Shopko parking lot in Toledo, dozens of them gathered "Save IJH" fliers and filed onto a bus headed for Des Moines.

"I feel our services are needed and necessary and to take those services away is doing a huge injustice to those kids," said IJH youth services worker Todd Sprague.

The bus pulled up to the Capitol and the group immediately went to work, reaching out to senators, addressing concerns like education and the treatment of IJH residents that ultimately led to the closure.

"All of us are saying, 'Where was the quality control prior to this, how did we get to this point?' Those are tough questions that legislators have to ask," said Sen. Liz Mathis.

And legislators did, when the Human Resource Committee sat down to hear the stories of former residents like Amber Opdahl. Abandoned by her mother, molested by her father, and brutally abused by foster parents, Opdahl ended up in IJH by age 14.

Today, Opdahl is a licensed practical nurse, about to become a registered nurse, and wants to go on to get her doctorate.

"I sat with a patient once on an overnight shift, talking him through some of the worst hours of his life. He had asked me to help him die. I couldn't do it. But I knew the pain he was in and it broke my heart. The little girl who grew up constantly in pain and no one to talk to until these amazing people around you taught me to trust. Taught me to let it go," Opdahl said.

But Opdahl is a success story. IJH staff say the stories of displaced girls who don't have the medication or treatment they need in their new facilities may not end as happily.

Eventually, Governor Terry Branstad and the Department of Human Service's decision to relocate the 21 remaining IJH residents and layoff the 93 employees was questioned.

"What's he thinking? What does he have against these girls that are some of the most vulnerable people in our state?" said Sen. Joe Bolkcom..

And the committee decided a bill was in order.

"I think as legislators we all ought to stand up for women in this state on an equal basis. We need to reopen the juvenile home," said Sen. William Dotzler.

The legislature needs to have the guts to get a bill through the House and Senate, Bolkcom said. He said he is hopeful the governor would sign a bill if it came across his desk.
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