Phoenix, Arizona police are investigating a case of possible elder sexual abuse after a woman in a vegetative state became pregnant and gave birth. Authorities have not yet released any details from the investigation.
“None of the staff were aware that she was pregnant until she was pretty much giving birth,” a source told reporters at azfamily.com. The woman has been a patient at Hacienda HealthCare, a nursing home in Phoenix, for nearly a decade after a drowning accident left her in a vegetative state. Since her drowning incident, the woman has depended on round-the-clock care from staff members at Hacienda HealthCare.
Then she gave birth to a baby boy on December 29, 2018. Needless to say, being in a vegetative state for almost a decade, there was no possible way for the patient to consent to sexual activity. Nor could she have defended herself from an assailant, or report the assault after it occurred.
Located a few miles from downtown Phoenix, Hacienda Healthcare serves primarily patients with severe intellectual disabilities. The facility is registered as having 74 patient beds. Some patients have been living at the nursing home for decades.
Bill Timmons, C.E.O. of the corporation operating the private nursing home, stepped down from his position on January 17. His resignation was accepted unanimously by the board of directors. Timmons had served as chief executive of Hacienda HealthCare for 28 years.
It has been all but confirmed that the nursing home patient, living in a vegetative state for nearly 10 years, was sexually assaulted during her stay at Hacienda HealthCare. Gary Orman, executive vice president of the corporation’s board, says it would “accept nothing less than a full accounting of this absolutely horrifying situation, an unprecedented case that has devastated everyone involved, from the victim and her family to Hacienda staff at every level of our organization.”
While the patient’s identity has not been released to the public, Hacienda Healthcare has seen unprecedented scrutiny since the Phoenix Police Department opened an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the victim’s unexpected pregnancy. A spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Health Services told the New York Times that an inspection of the facility would be forthcoming.
Health department officials have also ordered Hacienda to increase staff presence during patient interactions, expand monitoring of patient care areas and strengthen security measures around visitors to the facility. And male staffers who wish to enter the room of a female patient will now be required to be accompanied by a female worker.
Hacienda HealthCare spokesman David Leibowitz says the facility’s staff and management are shocked by the allegations of sexual abuse. In a statement to the New York Times, Leibowitz told reporters that the facility had begun “a comprehensive internal review” of patient safety protocols.
Hacienda HealthCare does not have a sterling record of service. Government records hosted on Medicare.gov show the facility’s health inspection rating at “Below Average,” with 2 out of 5 stars. The nursing home’s health citations from its last inspection were above average, at 6 citations compared to the average of 3.6 in Arizona. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has rated Hacienda’s quality of resident care as “much below average.”
This isn’t the first time that Hacienda HealthCare has found itself in hot water with state regulators. In 2013, officials for the Arizona Department of Health Services announced that a male employee at the facility had mistreated residents by making sexually explicit comments to them. Four years later, in 2017, state regulators again cited the facility, this time for not providing residents with adequate privacy while they were naked or showering. “Federal and state laws guarantee certain basic rights to all residents of this facility and they include the right to a dignified existence and to be treated with dignity,” state regulators wrote at the time.
Experts say patients in nursing homes, along with those with disabilities, live at a particular risk for abuse and sexual violence, in part because they depend on others to live their lives. “People who need total care are very, very vulnerable,” says Regan Smith, ombudsman for Area Agency on Aging, an organization based in Maricopa County. “And no one wants to believe that things are happening to them – they’re our most vulnerable population.”
Haberman Law is dedicated to representing the rights of victims of nursing home abuse and neglect.
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