February 8, 2019 / 2:35 AM / in 11 days

Arizona healthcare facility to shut down after disabled woman's rape

PHOENIX (Reuters) - An Arizona long-term healthcare facility will shut down after a severely disabled patient was raped, a crime that only came to light after she gave birth.

Officials from Hacienda HealthCare said in a statement on Thursday that its board of directors had voted to close its 60-bed skilled nursing facility in Phoenix because it was “simply not sustainable to continue.”

Hacienda said it would work with the state to transition about three dozen patients to other facilities before closing.

The case came to light in December when the unidentified patient, a woman in her 20s, went into labor. Caretakers said they had no idea that the woman, who was disabled by seizures during her early childhood, was pregnant.

The decision brought immediate rebukes from state officials who said that closing Hacienda would cause difficulties for the patients and their family members

“This is very disturbing news,” the state Department of Economic Security said in a written statement. “We want to find a path forward that is in the best interests of the patients — and this approach is not it.”

A spokesman for Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, Patrick Ptak, said the state had been working to increase oversight at the facility to ensure proper patient care.

“Forcing this medically fragile community to move should be a last resort,” Ptak said in a statement. “Everyone’s first priority should be protecting their health and safety.”

Ducey has urged the state attorney general to open an investigation into Hacienda. In a letter, the governor also asked the attorney general to seek civil penalties against Hacienda and a company reorganization.

A nurse at the facility, Nathan Sutherland, 36, was arrested in January after investigators said they had linked him to the case through DNA evidence.

Sutherland pleaded not guilty earlier this week and remains in a Maricopa County jail in lieu of a $500,000 bail. His attorney, Dave Gregan, has said prosecutors lack direct evidence of his client’s guilt and that the defense would conduct its own DNA tests.

The woman ultimately gave birth to a baby boy, who police say is doing well and is being cared for by her family members.

Reporting by David Schwartz in Phoenix; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Lisa Shumaker

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