A male nurse who worked at a health care facility where a woman in a vegetative state gave birth has been charged with sex offences.
The victim, whose details have been withheld, gave birth to a healthy baby boy on 29 December, 2018.
Police arrested nurse Nathan Sutherland, 36, on suspicion of one count of sexual assault and one count of vulnerable adult abuse after testing his DNA.
The woman, 29, has been at the Hacienda HealthCare facility for more than ten years and requires around-the-clock care. She is in a vegetative state and can’t speak, but responds to sound and can make facial gestures.
Staff did not know the woman was pregnant until she literally began to give birth. It is believed Sutherland was one of her carers. The centre announced on the weekend that one of the woman’s doctors has since resigned and another has been suspended.
Initial reports stated the woman was in a coma after nearly drowning as a child, but her family say she is intellectually disabled because of seizures in early childhood. They say she has some mobility in her limbs, head and neck and can respond to sound. The family is caring for the baby.
A whistle-blower speaks out
The shocking incident was first revealed when a staff member of the hospital turned whistle-blower. Media outlet, AZ Family, a Phoenix CBS affiliate, aired the story after it was approached by a woman “familiar with the situation”. The woman, a likely carer, wished to remain anonymous.
The whistle-blower, whose face was hidden and voice disguised for the television interview, told reporter Briana Whitney she felt “anger and sadness” when she learned what had happened to the patient.
“None of the staff were aware that she was pregnant until she was pretty much giving birth,” the whistle-blower said.
She also told Whitney that staff were alerted that something was wrong with the patient when she began to vocalize in pain. “From what I’ve been told she was moaning. And they didn’t know what was wrong with her.”
Obviously, the victim’s extreme vulnerability makes this incident particularly harrowing. Sadly, the whistle-blower confirmed that the victim would have had no way to defend herself nor to communicate that she had been impregnated.
The hospital declines to comment
The Hacienda Skilled Nursing Facility, where the patient was cared for, is part of the larger Phoenix-based Hacienda HealthCare system. The organisation’s website said this particular facility provides “comprehensive, individual, home-away-from-home care to children and young adults ages 45 or younger” with “profound disabilities and complex medical needs.”
A public relations representative for the facility declined to comment, citing privacy laws but did say they were aware of a ‘deeply disturbing incident involving the health and safety of a Hacienda resident.’
The authorities step in
Arizona Department of Health Services, Director of Communications Melissa Blasius-Nuanez, has confirmed that the department is assisting the police in their criminal investigation and mandating heightened safety measures at the facility.
“Upon learning of the allegation, ADHS immediately initiated an onsite complaint investigation to ensure the health and safety of the patients and ensure the facility is in compliance with all state laws and regulations,” she said, adding there will be “increased staff presence during patient interactions, increased monitoring of the patient care areas, and increased security measures with respect to visitors at the facility.”
DNA testing will reveal the truth
Many comments on an article published by BuzzFeed called for all male staff at the facility to be DNA tested.
As one reader Michelle noted, ‘Easiest sentencing a court could ever have in a rape case! No one will be able to deny it was rape. And there’s DNA evidence in the form of a child!’
New policy for vulnerable patients care
The whistleblower also revealed that the responsible facility (where the incident occurred) had implemented a new policy in the week following the birth. Male staff are no longer allowed in female patients’ rooms unless they were accompanied by a female staff member. This has not been officially confirmed by the facility but for the poor victim seems too little, too late.