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Police Seek Male Staffers' DNA At Center Where Patient In Vegetative State Gave Birth

A Hacienda HealthCare location in Phoenix, where a woman said to be in a vegetative state gave birth to a child last month. Police are now investigating the incident.
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A Hacienda HealthCare location in Phoenix, where a woman said to be in a vegetative state gave birth to a child last month. Police are now investigating the incident.

Updated at Jan. 9 at 3:13 p.m. ET

Phoenix police are collecting DNA evidence from all male employees of Hacienda HealthCare, where a patient in a vegetative state gave birth to a child Dec. 29.

Police served the long-term care facility with a search warrant on Tuesday, The Associated Press reported."We will continue to cooperate with Phoenix Police and all other investigative agencies to uncover the facts in this deeply disturbing, but unprecedented situation," Hacienda Healthcare said in a statement.

The care facility had considered conducting its own DNA tests, but its attorneys advised that genetic testing of its employees would violate federal law, the company said, according to The Arizona Republic.

"The family obviously is outraged, traumatized and in shock by the abuse and neglect of their daughter at Hacienda Healthcare," said John Micheaels, who represents the family of the woman, according to the New York Times. "The family would like me to convey that the baby boy has been born into a loving family and will be well cared for."

More details were released Tuesday night about the woman's identity. Officials from the San Carlos Apache Tribe in Arizona say the woman is a member of their tribe and confirmed she "has been in a persistent vegetative state and coma for over a decade," according to a statementobtained by local TV station 12News.

On Monday, Hacienda's longtime CEO, Bill Timmons, resigned as police continue to investigate how a woman who wasn't able to consent to sex was impregnated.

The woman had been a patient at the Phoenix facility for years after almost drowning, according to azfamily.com, which broke the story; police declined to provide NPR with details about their investigation. Staff members reportedly hadn't noticed the patient was pregnant until she went into labor.

"I can't believe someone would bathe her daily for nine months, never know she wasn't having her period, she wasn't growing in her mid-section," one of the woman's former caregivers told ABC15, which did not reveal his or her identity.

The caregiver said the woman was completely unable to communicate and was only visited by family members every few months.

Calling her case an "absolutely horrifying situation," Hacienda HealthCare board member Gary Orman said in a statement that the "unprecedented case ... has devastated everyone involved, from the victim and her family to Hacienda staff at every level of our organization."

The company, which says it is cooperating with police, provides services ranging from day programs to long-term residential care for more than 2,500 patients annually.

In 2013, Timmons received a warning from the Arizona Department of Health Services after an investigation revealed that a staff member — who was later fired — had made sexual comments about a patient that weren't appropriately reported. According to agency documents, Hacienda HealthCare later corrected facility "deficiencies" that contributed to the incident.

"Our nation is very much in denial about how widespread the problem of sexual abuse is — especially when you have a population that does not fit the mainstream criteria as a sexual being," Kristen Houser, spokesperson for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, told Vox. Last year, NPR reported that Americans with intellectual disability are sexually assaulted at a rate seven times higher than those without disabilities.

State officials say they have acted to protect other patients following the pregnancy. The Department of Health Services says that its own investigation is continuing and that it "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 says in an emailed statement that it had sent a team to check on the health and safety of every person in the facility since the pregnancy and birth were reported and that it was working with Phoenix police on their investigation.

Neither state officials nor a company spokesperson answered questions from NPR about the current location of the mother or her newborn son.

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

Ian (pronounced "yahn") Stewart is a producer and editor for Weekend Edition and Up First.
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!").
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