PHOENIX (AP) - Family members of patients at a Phoenix long-term care facility where an incapacitated patient was raped and later gave birth made a full-throated defense of the facility, saying the sexual assault was a tragic yet isolated encounter that didn’t reflect the professionalism and compassion of its other employees.
Dr. Alan Strobel, whose 30-year-old son Logan has lived at Hacienda Healthcare for the last three years, said Monday at a news conference that the public has gotten a skewed portrayal of the facility since the woman gave birth there.
“The Hacienda that we have known firsthand for years - as we are the primary stakeholders here - in no way resembles the hell hole you have read about or seen depicted on the news,” Strobel said, adding that he doesn’t believe there is a better intermediate care facility in Arizona.
Strobel said he believes unfavorable news stories about the facility are leading state and federal regulators to try to shut down Hacienda.
The surprise birth triggered reviews by state agencies, highlighted safety concerns for patients who are severely disabled or incapacitated and prompted the resignations of Hacienda’s chief executive and one of the victim’s doctors.
The pregnancy was discovered on Dec. 29 when an employee changing the patient’s garments noticed the woman was in the process of delivering a child. Employees told police they had no idea she was pregnant.
Nathan Sutherland, a licensed practical nurse who worked at the facility, was arrested three weeks later on charges of sexual assault and abuse of a vulnerable adult.
Investigators say Sutherland’s DNA matched a sample from the woman’s son, who is being cared for by her family. Sutherland has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told Hacienda last month that its participation in the Medicaid program will end on Wednesday.
The Arizona Department of Health Services also has said it’s revoking the facility’s license after maggots were discovered near a surgical incision beneath a patient’s gauze bandage. The state agency has said it will give the facility more oversight but won’t force it to close.
The state agency said in a statement that it’s working with Hacienda to keep patients at the facility.
Patrick Ptak, a spokesman for Gov. Doug Ducey, said in a statement that state agencies are working with patients and their families to find the best solution. “Our top priority has been and will continue to be the safety and welfare of patients at Hacienda,” Ptak said.
The regulatory decisions affect the facility’s intermediate care operation, not its skilled nursing operation.
Hacienda spokesman David Leibowitz said the facility is appealing both regulatory actions.
“There is no danger that this facility will shut down on July 3,” Leibowitz said.
The facility’s Medicaid certification is scheduled to end Wednesday, but it will still have federal funding for another 30 days. After that, the state is obligated to pick up those costs, Leibowitz said.
Follow Jacques Billeaud at twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud.
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