Phoenix police said during a press conference on Wednesday afternoon that a baby born to a woman who has been in a vegetative state for more than a decade nearly died during birth.
Sgt Tommy Thompson confirmed that the baby was in distress following the birth, but he and his mother are now recovering at a local hospital.
The victim gave birth on December 29 at Hacienda HealthCare.
She had been in a vegetative state for more than 10 years after a near-drowning when she delivered the baby boy.
Thompson said he didn’t have many details about the birth, but to his knowledge, staff members of the facility were there when the baby was born, and it was a natural birth.
He wasn’t able to confirm if the baby was full term at the time of the birth, but he said the baby boy was ‘quite a long ways’.
Sgt Tommy Thompson (pictured) said during a press conference on Wednesday afternoon that a baby born to a woman who has been in a vegetative state for more than a decade nearly died during birth
Thompson confirmed that the baby was in distress following the birth, but he and his mother are now recovering at a local hospital. The victim gave birth on December 29 at Hacienda HealthCare (pictured). She has been in a vegetative state for more than 10 years
When asked if staffers at the facility knew about the pregnancy and failed to report, Thompson said: ‘I’m led to believe that this [pregnancy] came to light when the baby was born.’
Thompson said that if staffers did know about the pregnancy, they will face possible charges for not reporting it to authorities.
‘This was a helpless victim who was sexually assaulted,’ Thompson told reporters.
He said the woman, 29, who has not been identified, was ‘not in a position to give consent’.
It’s unclear if the woman was assaulted more than once, but it is a possibility.
When asked whether police would speak to other women at the facility to see if they had been sexually assaulted, Thompson said the police department is only focusing on the one sexual assault case.
A lawyer for the woman’s family said they were outraged at the ‘neglect of their daughter’ and asked 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 Michaels said in a statement.
On Tuesday, police served a search warrant to get DNA from all male employees at a long-term care facility.
Hacienda HealthCare said it welcomed the DNA testing of employees.
‘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.
Local news website Azfamily.com first reported that the woman, who had been in a vegetative state for more than 10 years after a near-drowning, delivered a baby on December 29.
San Carlos Apache officials announced Tuesday night that the woman was an enrolled member of the tribe, whose reservation is in southeastern Arizona about 134 miles east of Phoenix.
In a statement, tribal officials said the woman was still in a coma when she gave birth.
The woman’s name was redacted from the tribal statement.
It’s not known if the woman has a family or a guardian.
‘On behalf of the tribe, I am deeply shocked and horrified at the treatment of one of our members,’ tribal chairman Terry Rambler said.
‘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.’
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’.
A spokesman for Hacienda HealthCare said investigators served a search warrant Tuesday to obtain DNA samples from all male staffers.
San Carlos Apache officials announced Tuesday night that the woman was an enrolled member of the tribe, whose reservation is in southeastern Arizona about 134 miles east of Phoenix. Members of the San Carlos Apache Tribe are seen in a 2014 Facebook photo
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.
Hacienda CEO Bill Timmons stepped down Monday, spokesman David Leibowitz said.
The decision was unanimously accepted by the provider’s board of directors.
Gov Doug Ducey’s office has called the situation ‘deeply troubling’.
The Hacienda facility serves infants, children and young adults who are ‘medically fragile’ or have developmental disabilities, according to the website.
In the wake of the reports, 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 the facility going back to 2013.
Most of them involve fire drill and evacuation preparation or Medicaid eligibility.
San Carlos Apache Tribal Chairman Terry Rambler said: ‘On behalf of the tribe, I am deeply shocked and horrified at the treatment of one of our members’
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.’
Thompson said that the baby’s DNA will be one of their key tools in the investigation.
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.’