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Arizona Facility Where Incapacitated Woman Was Raped And Gave Birth Will Remain Open

Arizona has stepped in to reverse a decison by Phoenix's Hacienda HealthCare to close after a patient was sexually assaulted and impregnated.
Matt York
Arizona has stepped in to reverse a decison by Phoenix's Hacienda HealthCare to close after a patient was sexually assaulted and impregnated.

Updated at 10:40 p.m. ET on Friday

The long-term care facility in Arizona where an incapacitated woman was raped and later gave birth will not close, despite a decision by Hacienda HealthCare's board of directors, which was announced Thursday.

Instead, the board agreed late Friday to accept voluntary regulation by the Arizona Department of Health Services, according to a spokesman for Gov. Doug Ducey.

"Our agencies will continue to work with Hacienda to implement a voluntary regulatory agreement with strong oversight and accountability measures that ensure safety and quality care going forward for patients," said spokesman Patrick Ptak in an email to local media.

The agreement comes after Ducey stepped up an effort to keep the facility open.

He said, "We've put a 24-hour monitor inside Hacienda to make sure the patients are cared for and they are comfortable and now we're working on the long-time solution for these people so their lives aren't disrupted," according to NPR member station KJZZ.

Hacienda officials had said they couldn't continue running the facility, which serves children and young adults with intellectual disabilities. Ducey and other state officials criticized the decision to close, arguing it wasn't in the best interest of the 37 remaining patients. Earlier this week, the governor had asked the state attorney general to pursue charges against Hacienda for violating state laws regarding the proper care of "vulnerable adults."

"After a great deal of careful consideration," the company "has come to understand that it is simply not sustainable to continue to operate our Intermediate Care Facility for the Intellectually Disabled," Hacienda said in a statement, The New York Times reported. The facility said that the care of its patients remained a top priority, and they would work to ensure a smooth transition to other facilities.

Arizona officials had ordered Hacienda to work with a third-party manager to oversee day-to-day operations, but the facility said it couldn't afford the anticipated $500,000 cost.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said he was concerned by the decision to shut down, given that state agencies had been actively trying to increase oversight of the facility, AZCentral reported. Just a day before the closing was announced, Ducey issued an executive orderdirecting three state agencies to strengthen protections for people with disabilities.

Earlier this week, he asked the state attorney general to pursue charges against the facility. The board of directors had received "numerous complaints of sexual harassment committed by the former CEO," including "groping, explicit comments and inappropriate inquiries about employees' sex lives," Ducey wrote. He also pointed to ongoing allegations of "financial fraud within the company." State investigators opened an inquiry into potential Medicaid fraud by the company in 2016.

The Arizona Department of Economic Security said in a statement that it encouraged Hacienda to "work with the State to find a path forward," local media reported. "State agencies are exhausting all efforts to bring this to a conclusion that is beneficial to the patients, some of whom have been at this facility nearly their entire lives," the department said. "They are the ones who should come first, without question. This approach simply does not meet that test."

Ducey echoed criticism over the facility's decision to close, focusing on the statement that it would be too expensive to stay open. "Hacienda claims it cannot afford the cost of Benchmark, with anticipated costs of $500,000, even though according to tax documents, it paid the prior CEO an almost $600,000 salary," he said, adding that, "These facts do not add up."

One Hacienda nurse said she was devastated by the closing. "I hurt because I know that so many won't understand why they have to leave," she said.

Former nurse Nathan Sutherland, 36, was charged with sexual assault after his DNAallegedly matched that of the newborn. Sutherland pleaded not guilty Tuesday to impregnating the patient, CNN reported. He is being held on a $500,000 bail.

The 29-year-old victim was originally described as being in a "vegetative" state, but her family said in a statement that she "responds to sound and is able to make facial gestures," NPR has reported. According to the Associated Press, she had lived at the facility since she was 3 years old.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Matthew S. Schwartz
Matthew S. Schwartz is a reporter with NPR's news desk. Before coming to NPR, Schwartz worked as a reporter for Washington, DC, member station WAMU, where he won the national Edward R. Murrow award for feature reporting in large market radio. Previously, Schwartz worked as a technology reporter covering the intricacies of Internet regulation. In a past life, Schwartz was a Washington telecom lawyer. He got his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center, and his B.A. from the University of Michigan ("Go Blue!").
Richard Gonzales
Richard Gonzales is NPR's National Desk Correspondent based in San Francisco. Along with covering the daily news of region, Gonzales' reporting has included medical marijuana, gay marriage, drive-by shootings, Jerry Brown, Willie Brown, the U.S. Ninth Circuit, the California State Supreme Court and any other legal, political, or social development occurring in Northern California relevant to the rest of the country.