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‘Cognitively disabled’ woman gives birth after 20 years in long-term facility

Martin M. Barillas Martin M. Barillas Follow Martin

PHOENIX, February 22, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) -- A vulnerable woman gave birth after an alleged rape at a long-term care facility in Arizona.

The 29-year-old woman, who in some media reports had been identified as being in a “vegetative state” for more than 20 years, is instead "significantly cognitively disabled,"  according to attorney John Michaels, as reported by Insider.

Michaels said the woman suffered seizures as a child, leading to her care in the Hacienda HealthCare Skilled Nursing Facility in Phoenix. The attorney said the young woman is able to make facial expressions and can make some movements. She also recognizes family members. According to reports, she was not able to tell caregivers verbally of her condition. Police officials said she nearly died during delivery.

In the statement to Insider, Michaels said of the victim’s family, "Their daughter responds to sound and is able to make facial gestures. The important thing is that she is a beloved daughter, albeit with significant intellectual disabilities. She has feelings, likes to be read to, enjoys soft music, and is capable of responding to people she is familiar with, especially family."

Hacienda HealthCare became the focus of national attention in December when attendants called 911 on December 29 when they heard the non-verbal woman moaning. They did not know that she was pregnant. Law enforcement later arrested Nathan Sutherland, 36, in January. A DNA paternity test showed that he is the father of a healthy baby boy. Sutherland is being held without bond and has been charged with one count of sexual assault and another of vulnerable adult abuse. He is a licensed practical nurse who worked at the facility.

The patient is a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, and her child is living with her family. She had been living at Hacienda HealthCare for at least 14 years and had been in long-term care since age six.

A physician who worked at the facility resigned and another was fired. On Feb. 8, the board of directors of the live-in healthcare facility voted to close its doors because it is “not sustainable to continue to operate,” according to The Arizona Republic. No transition plan for the approximately 37 patients at the facility was announced.

Republican Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey expressed concern over the closure. A spokesman told The Arizona Republic that "forcing this medically fragile community to move should be a last resort. Everyone's first priority should be protecting their health and safety." He has signed an executive order mandating closer scrutiny of long-term care facilities to protect patients.

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