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Arizona Lawmakers are Hoping to Crack Down on Sexual Abuse

— February 18, 2019

Arizona lawmakerse are hoping to modify current licensing requirements for all caregivers of patients with disabilities in order to address sexual abuse concerns.

Arizona lawmakers are considering changing laws that would apply to intermediate care facilities.  Another newly proposed legislation, these centers would need to apply for a state license and conduct background checks of all employees that care for clients.

Governor Doug Ducey recently ordered state agencies to improve protections for people with disabilities, and his executive order would require staff at state-funded care centers to undergo annual training preventing and reporting patient abuse and neglect.  The state of Arizona has eleven in total.  He’ll also require they programs post signage regarding how to properly report suspected abuse.

Nearly thirty years ago, Arizona created an exemption to the law for state regulated centers that cared for patients with developmental disabilities, giving oversight responsibilities to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  State inspectors still visit the facilities annually under a government contract but can only enforce regulations with the aid of the agency’s regional office in San Francisco.

Arizona Lawmakers are Hoping to Crack Down on Sexual Abuse
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“We’re trying to close that loophole that was created decades ago,” said Senator Heather Carter, Republican sponsor of the legislation which would require intermediate care facilities to check databases for those involved in patient care even if they do not have to be personally licensed.

Part of the reason for the new push is to prevent incidents like one that happened Phoenix at Hacienda Healthcare in which a 29-year-old incapacitated woman was raped by a caregiver and later gave birth to a baby boy.  The patient had been in long-term care since the age of three and had been in a vegetative state for fourteen years after she nearly drowned.  Hacienda said they had no idea she was carrying a child.

A DNA sample taken from the child matched 36-year-old nurse, Nathan Sutherland, who was ultimately arrested and accused of sexual assault and impregnating the woman.  He pleaded not guilty.  The boy is being raised by the woman’s family.

“I can’t believe that somebody would bathe her daily for nine months and never know that she wasn’t having a period, that she [was] growing in her midsection, that nurses weren’t keeping track [of her weight],” one former Hacienda caregiver said. “Those things are shocking to me.”

Hacienda HealthCare later announced it would shut down its operations. “It is simply not sustainable to continue to operate our intermediate care facility for the intellectually disabled,” the company said. “The care of our patients remains our top priority and we will do everything in our power to ensure a smooth transition for them and their families.”

Nearly forty other patients were relocated to other centers.

Editor’s note: We were contacted by a representative from the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council regarding an unintentional inaccuracy in our coverage. Please see the paragraph below for the correction. 

“Hacienda HealthCare and its intermediate care facility for individuals with intellectual disabilities (ICF-IID) has not shut down. Outside of a few families searching for other housing options for their loved ones that we know of, it is not accurate that ‘Nearly forty other patients were relocated to other centers.'”

The lack of state licensing was among the issues noted in a report developed by the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council calling for policy changes to protect vulnerable adults from sexual abuse.  The report by the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council was in the works before the rape at Hacienda, and also indicated people who are required to report abuse but fail to do so should face felony charges.


Arizona may require license for care facilities after rape of incapacitated patient


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