Woman in Vegetative State Since 1993 Gives Birth, Nursing Home Staffer Arrested

The police have arrested a nurse who is reportedly responsible for sexually assaulting a nursing home resident who has been in a vegetative state since 1993. According to The New York Times, the nursing home resident and mother has been under the care of Hacienda HealthCare in Phoenix since 1993, when she was only four-years-old. The Arizona nursing home said it did not know the woman, who has not been identified by Phoenix police, was pregnant. Upon the birth of her child, police required all male staff members to provide DNA samples. The police then identified the father as 36-year-old Nathan Dorceus Sutherland and charged him for sexual assault and abuse of a vulnerable adult.

Speaking on behalf of the woman’s family, a representative described the woman as possessing “significant intellectual disabilities” and is only able to move her limbs, head, neck and respond to sound. The representative called for a full investigation into Hacienda HealthCare and the staff responsible for the woman’s care. State legislators have not wasted any time in responding to the horrific abuse that occurred at the nursing home. On January 30, the nursing home came under new ownership. Earlier in January, the two doctors responsible for the woman’s care and the CEO of the facility were removed from their positions.

From a legislative standpoint, the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council issued recommendations to “better protect individuals with disabilities” from sexual assault. The governmental agency recommended requiring nursing home staff to both report any suspected sexual abuse and to undergo sexual assault training to help better identify predators. The report also recommended requiring Adult Protective Services to investigate every allegation of sexual assault and increased funding for sexual assault prevention and nursing homes.

While rare, sexual assault of nursing home residents does occur. In 1995, a Rochester nursing home discovered one of their patients had become pregnant, despite being in a vegetative state for over a decade. In that case, a nurse aide, John Horace, was convicted of raping the woman and sentenced to 25 years in prison. The victim’s family later helped pass “Kathy’s Law” in New York, which required nursing homes to perform criminal background checks on their staff, according to The New York Times. Since Sutherland’s employment history included multiple sexual harassment complaints, Arizona legislators looking to prevent a repeat of this horrific tragedy may want to follow New York’s lead.

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