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Nurse Accused of Impregnating Woman in Vegetative State Sheds Light on Abuse, Neglect

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Nearly every major news outlet across the nation has been following the story of a 29-year-old Arizona nursing home resident that gave birth to a baby boy at the end of December while in a vegetative state. The disturbing facts of the case continue to shed light on the internal problems of nursing homes, the horrors of sexual assault and the prevalence of caretaker abuse and neglect.

Facts of The Case

On December 29, paramedics were dispatched to Hacienda HealthCare after receiving a 911 call from a nurse stating, “The baby’s turning blue!” Later in the phone call, the nurse told the dispatcher, “We had no idea she was pregnant.”

The 29-year-old Hacienda resident has been in a vegetative state for years and is unable to give consent to sexual relations. After the baby boy was born, DNA tests were conducted on all male staff in an attempt to find the man responsible for the assault and rape.

A 36-year-old Licensed Practical Nurse at the facility, Nathan Sutherland, was arrested in connection with impregnating the patient after it was determined his DNA matched the baby’s. He has been charged with one count of sexual assault and one count of vulnerable adult abuse.

Sexual Assault in Nursing Homes

The unfolding story has evoked feelings of shock, horror and disbelief from the nation, and rightly so. The attention this incident has received shed light on the widespread problem of sexual assault in nursing homes. Many rapes in long-term care facilities, however, rarely end in birth, and thus are more likely to go unnoticed.

Previously, we covered the alarming statistics of sexual assault among nursing home residents and detailed why it oftentimes goes unreported.

In February 2017, CNN reported that since 2000, over 16,000 complaints of sexual abuse in nursing homes and assisted living facilities have been reported. While that number appears high, officials warn that the true figure of actual assaults is likely much higher.

As a result, some argue for reform. More intense background checks and vetting processes have been suggested, as well as only allowing same-gender aides to bathe, change, and assist residents in the restroom. Other suggested precautions involve thoroughly monitoring all employees so that a staff member never enters a patient’s room unnoticed.

Caretaker Neglect in Nursing Homes

A former caretaker of the Hacienda Healthcare resident told ABC15 that they were in disbelief no one noticed the woman was pregnant. Perhaps most surprising, the caregiver said, was that if nurses were in fact giving daily baths and checking her weight, how would they not notice missed periods, a growing belly and weight gain?

Bed checks that were supposed to happen every 15 minutes only occurred “sporadically,” the caregiver said. The caretaker also voiced concern for a lack of safety, stating that the facility’s doors lacked key card entries.

The basic safety precautions listed above, such as bed checks and security measures, were perhaps infrequently enforced at Hacienda, but this is true of many residential facilities. While that news may be shocking, it is sadly not unbelievable to those who have seen how far neglect goes in nursing homes.

Call Attorneys That Can Help

Oftentimes, cases we have at Jehl Law Group involve patients who were not bathed frequently, not fed or not turned enough to avoid bed sores. Once pressure sores develop, the problem becomes properly treating them, and we have seen many cases where facilities failed to adequately address a patient’s pressure sore, illness or meet their needs.

Our thoughts go out to the young Arizona woman, her family and friends who are currently dealing with this unthinkable reality. Injustices like this are an example of why we do what we do. We care about the well-being of long-term care residents and their families.

If you or a loved one has been sexually assaulted or neglected in a nursing home, please do not wait before calling for help. We have attorneys licensed in Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Kentucky, Illinois and Pennsylvania. We have successfully fought for our clients in the past, and we hope to do the same for you. Please call us at (901) 322-4232 for a free, confidential consultation.