Police served a search warrant Tuesday to get DNA from all male employees at a long-term care facility in Phoenix where a patient who had been in a vegetative state for years gave birth, triggering investigations by state agencies and police and putting a spotlight on safety concerns for patients who are severely disabled or incapacitated. Hacienda HealthCare said it welcomed the DNA testing.
"We will continue to cooperate with Phoenix Police and all other investigative agencies to uncover the facts in this deeply disturbing, but unprecedented situation," the company said in a statement.
the woman, who had been in a vegetative state for 14 years after a near-drowning, delivered a healthy baby boy Dec. 29.
The station later reported that the woman is Native American, and San Carlos Apache officials announced Tuesday night that the 29-year-old was an enrolled member of the tribe, whose reservation is in southeastern Arizona some 134 miles east of Phoenix.
In a statement, tribal officials concurred that the woman was in a vegetative state when she gave birth.
The woman's name was redacted from the tribal statement.
It was unclear if staff members at the facility were aware of her pregnancy until the birth, but KPHO quoted a source familiar with the situation as saying, "None of the staff were aware that she was pregnant until she was pretty much giving birth."
Tribal Chairman Terry Rambler said, "On behalf of the tribe, I am deeply shocked and horrified at the treatment of one of our members. "When you have a loved one committed to palliative care, when they are most vulnerable and dependent upon others, you trust their caretakers. Sadly, one of her caretakers was not to be trusted and took advantage of her. It is my hope that justice will be served."
A lawyer for the woman's family released a statement Tuesday saying the family was outraged at the "neglect of their daughter" and was asking for privacy.
"The family would like me to convey that the baby boy has been born into a loving family and will be well cared for," Phoenix attorney John Micheaels said in a statement.
San Carlos Apache Police Chief Alejandro Benally said Phoenix police "will do all they can to find the perpetrator" and his department will assist "in any way possible."
In a statement, board member Gary Orman said the facility "will accept nothing less than a full accounting of this absolutely horrifying situation."
"We will do everything in our power to ensure the safety of every single one of our patients and our employees," Orman said.
Gov. Doug Ducey's office has called the situation "deeply troubling."
KPHO-TV also notes outrage is being expressed on social media over why Phoenix police haven't called the probe of a woman in a vegetative state being impregnated, then giving birth inside the Hacienda nursing facility a sex crime.
According to KPHO-TV, all Phoenix police have said is, "At this time, this matter is still under investigation. It is important that the investigators be permitted to conduct their investigation without being impeded."
Former chief sex crimes investigator Bill Richardson remarked to the station that people will be asking what police have to hide. Richardson said he doesn't understand why police are being secretive, and hushed.
Hacienda CEO Bill Timmons stepped down Monday, spokesman David Leibowitz said. The decision was unanimously accepted by the provider's board of directors.
KPHO-TV also spoke with a former Hacienda manager who said Timmons insisted that a 1988 incident of abuse of a different patient be covered up.
The manager said female nurses were standing around a nonverbal male patient's bed, talking inappropriately about his genitalia. The ex-manager said when that was addressed at a subsequent manager's meeting, Timmons slammed his fist on a table and said, 'No! No one is going to report this,"' even though the law required that state health officials be notified.
"I was scared," the ex-manager recalled. "Bill Timmons has a temper. And we knew not to mess with that temper because people got fired."
The Hacienda facility serves infants, children and young adults who are "medically fragile" or have developmental disabilities, according to the website.
Changes made and more called for
In the wake of the developments, the Arizona Department of Health Services said new safety measures have been implemented. They include increased staff presence during any patient interaction, more monitoring of patient care areas and additional security measures involving visitors.
The state's online complaint database for care facilities shows multiple complaints about Hacienda de Los Angeles going back to 2013. Most of them involve fire drill and evacuation preparation or Medicaid eligibility.
But one complaint from December 2013 outlines an allegation that a staff member made inappropriate sexual comments about four patients two months earlier. Nobody relayed the incidents to an administrator. That employee was later fired.
Martin Solomon, a personal injury attorney in Phoenix whose clients are mostly vulnerable adult victims of abuse and neglect, said a lawyer representing this woman should call for all pertinent medical records, a list of current and ex-employees and any past litigation involving Hacienda. It would be the police who would lead DNA testing to figure out who fathered the baby, Solomon said.
It would be hard for Hacienda to escape any kind of liability in court.
"There's a lot of information we do not have. But things like this don't happen without someone either knowing about it or should have known about it," Solomon said. "Whether it's an employee or someone from the outside, the facility has an obligation to protect residents."
Advocates for the disabled say Arizona needs to find a way to monitor allegations of sexual abuse and sexual violence in group settings. Doing background checks isn't enough, said Erica McFadden, executive director of the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council.
"I think when you've had somebody who's had multiple allegations from different parties, there has to be some way to track that," McFadden said. "If it's the same story from different people, then there's something wrong."
The council recently formed a task force to look at how to improve training for health care workers when it comes to identifying and reporting sexual abuse.
"We don't have a systematic way to train people what's a good touch or a bad touch. We also don't have required training for providers," McFadden said. "We really need a lot of work in this area."
Jon Meyers, executive director of The Arc of Arizona, an advocacy group for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, called the allegations "disturbing, to put it mildly."
"I wasn't there. I clearly don't have firsthand knowledge of what happened," Meyers said. "But I can't believe someone receiving that level of constant care wasn't recognized as being pregnant prior to the time she delivered."