Hacienda HealthCare, which tends to medically fragile children and young adults in Arizona, has an admirable motto: “In special lives, we make a difference.”
But the company is facing investigations after one of its patients, a woman in a vegetative state, gave birth to a child on Dec. 29.
On Monday, the company’s longtime CEO, Bill Timmons, resigned as police continue to examine how a woman who wasn’t able to consent to sex was impregnated.
The 29-year-old woman had been a patient at the Phoenix facility for more than a decade after almost drowning, according to azfamily.com, which broke the story; police declined to provide NPR with details about their investigation. Staff members reportedly hadn’t noticed the patient was pregnant until she went into labor.
“I can’t believe someone would bathe her daily for nine months, never know she wasn’t having her period, she wasn’t growing in her mid-section,” one of the woman’s former caregivers told ABC15, which did not reveal his or her identity.
The caregiver said the woman was completely unable to communicate and was only visited by family members every few months.
Calling her case an “absolutely horrifying situation,” Hacienda HealthCare board member Gary Orman said in a statement that the “unprecedented case … has devastated everyone involved, from the victim and her family to Hacienda staff at every level of our organization.”
The firm, which says it is cooperating with police, provides services ranging from day programs to long-term residential care for more than 2,500 patients annually.
In 2013, Timmons received a warning from the Arizona Department of Health Services after an investigation revealed that a staff member — who was later fired — had made sexual comments about a patient that weren’t appropriately reported. According to agency documents, Hacienda HealthCare later corrected facility “deficiencies” that contributed to the incident.
“Our nation is very much in denial about how widespread the problem of sexual abuse is — especially when you have a population that does not fit the mainstream criteria as a sexual being,” Kristen Houser, spokesperson for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, told Vox. Last year, NPR reported that Americans with intellectual disability are sexually assaulted at a rate seven times higher than those without disabilities.
State officials say they have acted to protect other patients following the pregnancy. The Department of Health Services says that its own investigation is continuing and that it “has required heightened safety measures be implemented at the facility including increased staff presence during patient interactions, increased monitoring of the patient care areas, and increased security measures with respect to visitors at the facility.”
The Arizona Department of Economic Security says in an emailed statement that it had sent a team to check on the health and safety of every person in the facility since the pregnancy and birth were reported and that it was working with Phoenix police on their investigation.
Neither state officials nor a company spokesperson answered questions from NPR about the current location of the mother or her newborn son.