Earlier this month, our blog covered the story of a 29 year-old-woman in a vegetative state who had given birth to a baby boy on December 29th. The woman is a longtime resident of Hacienda Healthcare just outside Phoenix, previously falsely reported as admitted to the facility after a near drowning incident as a teenager. Instead, the woman’s family has clarified that she is nonverbal and is intellectually disabled as a result of seizures that began as a toddler. Although she is nonverbal, she is able to move her extremities and head and neck, and can show emotion through facial expressions.
This morning, Phoenix police announced that they had arrested Nathan Sutherland, a 36-year-old male nurse who had been an employee of the facility and was responsible for providing nursing care to the victim. He has been charged with one count of sexual assault and one count of vulnerable adult abuse after he was found to be a DNA match to the infant boy. Police required genetic testing of every male employee of Hacienda after the victim gave birth and although Sutherland initially attempted to forgo testing, he was ultimately forced by police to cooperate.
Sutherland become a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) in 2011 and it appears that Hacienda has been his sole employer since becoming an LPN. Prior to receiving his nursing certification, he worked as a nurse aide for 6 years. Earlier today, Hacienda released a statement that Sutherland was immediately fired upon learning of the DNA match, also saying that Sutherland went through a background check prior to being hired. Hacienda has publicly apologized for the incident, promising to follow more robust hiring and training practices.
Facility Had Been Dinged for Staffing Levels
In a statement, the woman’s attorney said he hopes the public realizes that despite her physical and mental limitations, the victim is a young woman who experiences emotions and is loved by her family. He said ‘The important thing here is that contrary to what’s been reported, she is a person, albeit with significant intellectual disabilities. She has feelings, likes to be read to, enjoys soft music and is capable of responding to people she is familiar with, especially family.’
Staff at Hacienda claimed they had no idea that the woman was pregnant, despite her naturally slight frame. Employees claim they only became aware of her pregnancy when she was in labor and she began to express pain and discomfort.
As we noted in our earlier post on this story, Hacienda received 1 out of 5 stars for staffing through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) Nursing Home Compare website. The low score is due to the facility’s non-compliance with submitting staffing data through the new payroll-based journal system, an e-submission platform that ensures facilities accurately and truthfully report staff hours to the federal government. There is no explanation as to why Hacienda has not submitted payroll hours as required.
Sexual Assaults and Rapes in Nursing Homes
Any violation of human dignity is abhorrent, but abuse or neglect of vulnerable elders and children have always been the worst breaches of trust for us to imagine.
Levin & Perconti has successfully handled numerous cases of sexual assault and rape within nursing facilities. The arrest of an employee in the rape of the Arizona woman is bringing attention to an undercover problem in nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities. Hiring employees who have any patient contact or any ability to come in contact with residents who are intellectually, physically, or emotionally compromised in any way should be thoroughly vetted. Once an employee is hired, they should never be able to go unnoticed into patient rooms. Perhaps one solution is for nursing homes to only allow female LPNs, RNs, and aides to provide assistance to female residents while bathing, changing, or using the restroom. Given the chronic problem of inadequate staffing in nursing homes, this will likely never come to pass.
Residents with dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other cognitive difficulties are unable to consent to sexual activity. Those who lack the mental and/or physical ability to give consent and are found to have engaged in sexual activity are victims. Yet despite this clear law, cases of rape, assault, and sexual abuse still persist.
If you suspect or know of sexual abuse, assault, or rape of a loved one within a nursing home, Levin & Perconti can help you get answers and demand justice. With nearly 3 decades of experience, we have both the resources and proven results required to hold nursing homes accountable. Contact us now for a free consultation: 312-332-2872 in Chicago, toll-free at 1-877-374-1417, or by completing our online case evaluation form.