PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — Phoenix police are investigating possible sex abuse at a nursing facility after a female patient recently became pregnant and gave birth.
Sources tell Arizona’s Family that the alleged victim has been a patient at the Hacienda HealthCare facility, which is near 16th Street and South Mountain Avenue, for at least a decade after a near-drowning incident left her in a vegetative state. That woman gave birth to a baby boy on Dec. 29.
“None of the staff were aware that she was pregnant until she was pretty much giving birth,” a source familiar with the situation said.
“How were they alerted to the fact that she was going into labor?” asked reporter Briana Whitney.
“From what I’ve been told she was moaning. And they didn’t know what was wrong with her,” the source said.
Arizona’s Family also learned that the baby is alive.
“There was a nurse that was there, and from what I’ve heard she’s the one that delivered the baby,” the woman said.
“What do we know about the baby?” asked Whitney.
“From what I know the baby is alive, and the baby is healthy,” she said.
The source says the patient required around-the-clock care and many would have access to her room.
“She had no way to defend herself in this sort of situation?” asked Whitney.
“No. None whatsoever. Not even able to communicate the fact that she was pregnant,” she said.
The source said the facility has changed protocol this week.
“I was told that as of now, if a male staff needs to enter a female room, they need to bring in a female employee with them,” she said.
“And as far as you’re aware that is a new policy?” asked Whitney.
“Yes,” she said.
We talked to a Valley OB/GYN about the case.
“I can’t even imagine how horrible it must be to be a victim of abuse like that” said Dr. Greg Marchand. “This was an extremely dangerous situation with no monitoring.”
Marchand said even though a baby can fully develop inside a woman in a vegetative state, it’s alarming that she had no prenatal care.
He said the biggest difference between a woman giving birth in a vegetative state, versus a healthy woman, is that this victim could not help push the baby out, and it’s a miracle there were not severe complications.
“It could have been an active labor for hours or even days. This easily could have resulted in a fetal death,” he said.
Marchand said when though she could not communicate, she likely was able to feel pain during birth.
“There’s no doubt she was able to feel pain, but how much consciousness there was to really take the suffering from that is what I don’t know,” he said.
Investigators from multiple agencies are saying next to nothing about the case, but we know that at some point last spring or summer, someone sexually assaulted a woman who was in a persistent vegetative state, and she became pregnant.
It’s not clear if the woman has family or a guardian to advocate for her. But twononprofits came forward today volunteering to do it if there’s not a thorough investigation.
The Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, http://www.azcadv.org/ . Spokesperson Tasha Menaker is “horrified” by the allegations and worries there could be more alleged victims.
“In sexual assault cases, it’s not uncommon that perpetrators have multiple victims and so that would be a concern for us,” she said.
“Our hope is that there will be a thorough investigation that identifies the person who did this and for some reason we weren’t to see a thorough investigation, we would take further steps,” said Menaker.
“There’s an infant involved which is evidence and so I think the first place to begin would be a DNA test of that child and that’s something the police department has the capacity to do,” she added.
“Many sexual assault perpetrators are actually looking for situations where people are in isolated or vulnerable positions and because most perpetrators are not reported to police or their cases don’t actually move forward, we always don’ t know if someone has a history of engaging in sexual harm against people,” she said.
She also explained that people living with disabilities are three more times at-risk of sexual violence than people without disabilities.
The Arizona Center for Disability Law is a nonprofit law firm that receives federal funds and “dedicated to protecting the rights of individuals with a wide range of physical, mental, psychiatric, sensory and cognitive disabilities.”
J.J. Rico leads the protection and advocacy agency in Arizona and could open up another investigation.
“Were there other physical signs that someone failed to recognize or take action on earlier than her actually giving birth?” said Rico.
“In my career, 17 years of I have not personally heard of someone giving birth to a child. I’ve seen reports of sexual assaults that occurred at facilities and institutions, but this is the first time in 17 years I’ve heard of someone give birth to a child,” he said.
“Concerns are how this happened? The status of the person with the disability and how she’s being cared for now moving forward and also what led to this potential sexual assault. I’m concerned for her an other residents,” he questioned.
Hacienda HealthCare spokeswoman Nancy Salmon released the following statement after Arizona’s Family asked about the case:
“Hacienda Healthcare has been in business in the valley for over 50 years, and has an outstanding reputation providing high quality specialized care for our patients. As a Healthcare provider, we cannot comment on any patient due to Federal and State privacy laws. Additionally, we cannot comment on any ongoing investigations. We can say that our patients and clients health and safety is our #1 priority and that we always cooperate, when asked by any agency, in an open and transparent way.”
On Friday, after receiving national attention, a Hacienda HealthCare spokesperson provided an additional statement:
“Hacienda HealthCare has been in business in Arizona for more than 50 years. In that time, we have reliably and safely served thousands of residents and their families. We are proud of our record and our position as an industry leader in caring for the intellectually and developmentally disabled.
“With that said, we have recently become aware of a deeply disturbing incident involving the health and safety of a Hacienda resident. While federal and state privacy laws prohibit us from publicly discussing a patient’s health or case, Hacienda has and will continue to cooperate fully with law enforcement and all the relevant regulatory agencies regarding this matter.
“As an organization, Hacienda HealthCare stands fully committed to getting to the truth of what, for us, represents an unprecedented matter. We are already conducting a comprehensive internal review of our processes, protocols, and people to ensure that every single Hacienda resident is as safe and well cared for as possible. Anything less than that is unacceptable to our team, our company’s leaders and the communities we serve.”
The Arizona Department of Health Services also released a statement:
“We are aware of this situation and are actively working with local law enforcement in their criminal investigation. Upon learning of the allegation, Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) immediately initiated an onsite complaint investigation to ensure the health and safety of the patients and ensure the facility is in compliance with all state laws and regulations. During this time, the agency has required heightened safety measures be implemented at the facility including increased staff presence during patient interactions, increased monitoring of the patient care areas, and increased security measures with respect to visitors at the facility.”
The Arizona Department of Economic Security released this statement.
“The Department has been made aware of these allegations and we continue to work fully with the Phoenix Police Department in their ongoing investigation. Upon hearing of these allegations, we immediately dispatched a team to conduct health and safety checks on all members residing at this health care facility, which has been completed. We will continue to work to ensure the safety of all our members.”
Phoenix Police Sgt. Tommy Thompson said “the matter is currently under investigation.”
Governor Doug Ducey’s office issued a statement Friday afternoon, nearly 24 hours after Arizona’s Family first broke the story:
“We have been informed of the situation that occurred at this healthcare facility and find the reports deeply troubling,” spokesman Patrick Ptak said. “The governor was briefed on these reports as soon as our office learned of them, and our state agencies immediately began taking every measure to protect patient safety. The Phoenix Police Department is the law enforcement agency leading the criminal investigation, and we continue to coordinate with them to ensure the integrity of their investigation and bring about justice. As their work continues, our top priority is patient safety. To that end, we are re-evaluating the state’s contract and regulatory authority as it relates to this facility and have been working closely with state agencies to ensure all necessary safety measures are in place.”
Records reveal that the Hacienda HealthCare facility has a checkered past.
Department of Health and Human Services records from 2013 reveal staffers heard a colleague making sexual statements about the residents. The staffer was accused of watching some clients masturbate, and while bathing another client, told a staffer the client was going to have a “happy morning.”
Records show the staffer was fired and training policies were updated.
Hacienda received a number of citations in late 2017.
Records show a man said he was uncomfortable with staffers walking in and out of his shower space.
Documents on the investigation reveal staffers regularly walked through his shower room to get to other rooms or collect supplies. A staffer said it had become a “bad habit.”
“It’s ghastly to think that something like this would happen,” says Brian Lee of Families for Better Care. The non-profit citizen advocacy group aims to improve quality of life and car within the nation’s nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
Lee points to a federal database where Medicare posts information about care homes including violations, penalties, and an “overall score” with 5 being the highest score and 1 being the lowest.
“What we’re seeing right now in the federal data, the Nursing Home Compare website, is this particular home does not have a lot of people working in their building,” says Lee.
In the last few years, Hacienda had a five-star rating. The month-to-month data for 2018 shows a few 3 ratings with the facility bottoming out with a 1 rating in October through November, the final months recorded on the website.
Because the data does not show why the rating sank so low, Lee says the reason behind it can only be speculated. He does suggest recorded staffing issues may play some role and that it’s possible Medicare collected more reliable data in the last couple months.
“We saw previously that the nursing home had really high staffing levels, really high rating overall, but maybe because of the changing in the methodology, getting real information about the home, it could be that changed the trajectory of the rating for this particular facility.”
Founded as Hacienda de Los Angeles in 1967, Hacienda HealthCare describes itself on its website as “the leading provider of specialized medical care and social services for Arizona’s infants, children and young adults who are medically fragile or chronically ill, including those with developmental disabilities.”
The organization says it offers dozens of programs and services through several nonprofit entities under its umbrella.
According to its website, Hacienda HealthCare serves more than 2,500 people throughout Arizona each year. The facility has 74 certified beds.