Police collected the DNA of male employees of a private nursing home in Arizona this week as they broadened the investigation into allegations that a woman in a vegetative state there who gave birth to a child last month had been sexually assaulted.
On Wednesday, the Phoenix Police Department appealed to the community for information related to the case and said the investigation could evolve as detectives learn more about the circumstances of the woman’s pregnancy and the conception of the child.
“Right now we are investigating a sexual assault,” Sgt. Tommy Thompson, a police spokesman, said at a news conference. “Wherever this investigation takes us, we are prepared to go forward with it.”
The moves represented an escalation in the case, which Monday prompted the resignation of the longtime chief executive of Hacienda HealthCare, parent company of the nursing home. Police announced Friday that they had opened the investigation into the alleged assault.
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David Leibowitz, a spokesman for Hacienda Healthcare, said Tuesday that it welcomed the action by police and had considered conducting voluntary genetic testing of its staff before company lawyers said that doing so would be illegal.
“Hacienda stands committed to doing everything in our power to bring this police investigation to a quick conclusion,” the company statement said. “We will continue to cooperate with Phoenix police and all other investigative agencies to uncover the facts in this deeply disturbing” situation.
Thompson said Wednesday that the investigation began after authorities responded to a 911 call Dec. 29 that reported a baby in distress at the nursing home. When they arrived, they found a baby who had been born to a woman who was “unable to move and unable to communicate.”
“She was not in a position to give consent to any of this,” Thompson said. “This was a helpless victim who was sexually assaulted.”
He said that the baby had been delivered by the staff of the nursing home and that it was unclear if any staff members had known that the woman was pregnant.
He said both mother and baby were recovering at a nearby hospital. The woman has not been publicly identified by police.
Court records obtained by The New York Times indicated that the victim was born in 1989 and had been at the facility since 1992, suggesting that she may have been in her current condition since the age of 3. They said she required total supervision.
Medical exam results filed with the court last spring said her condition had not changed and described both her rehabilitation prognosis and chance of discharge as “poor.”
It was not clear how many male employees or others police would obtain DNA from to be tested. Thompson said that investigators had not identified a suspect in the case but that there was “a large number of individuals that we will gather evidence from.”
He said investigators had served search warrants at the nursing home to obtain records that may help identify a suspect and had also used mouth swabs to obtain DNA, which he called “one of the key evidentiary factors” in the case.
In a separate development, the San Carlos Apache Tribe said in a statement Tuesday that the woman at the center of the case is an “enrolled member” of the tribe.
Speaking on behalf of the tribe, its chairman, Terry Rambler, said he was “deeply shocked and horrified.”
“When you have a loved one committed to palliative care, when they are most vulnerable and dependent upon others, you trust their caretakers,” Rambler said. “It is my hope that justice will be served.”
A lawyer for the woman’s family, John A. Micheaels, said in a statement Tuesday that the baby was a boy who “has been born into a loving family and will be well cared for.”
“The family obviously is outraged, traumatized and in shock by the abuse and neglect of their daughter at Hacienda HealthCare,” Micheaels said, adding that they did not wish to make a public statement.
The Arizona Department of Health Services said it was aware of the allegations and would conduct an inspection of the center, which is about 7 miles south of downtown Phoenix. It specializes in the care of people with intellectual disabilities and has at least 74 patient beds, according to federal records.
Records posted to the Medicare website indicate that the facility received a “below average” rating from health inspectors in 2017. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services rated its quality of resident care as “much below average.”
Episodes in which incapacitated patients are raped and become pregnant are not unprecedented, though they are rare.
In 1996, a woman from Rochester, New York, who had been in a coma for a decade after a car accident, gave birth to a 2-pound baby boy. When her belly began swelling, workers at the care facility in Brighton, New York, tested her for intestinal blockages but later determined through DNA testing that she had been assaulted by a nursing assistant, who was found guilty of rape and imprisoned.
Experts at the time said that was the country’s first recorded episode of a woman in a chronic vegetative state giving birth. The case drew additional attention because the parents of the woman, whose name was Kathy, chose to allow the pregnancy to continue and eventually adopted the child. Kathy died before the boy’s first birthday.
New York state subsequently passed “Kathy’s Law” in 1998, which imposed stiffer penalties for health care workers found guilty of abusing patients in nursing homes.
That same year, a woman in a coma at a home in Massachusetts gave birth to a baby girl prematurely and with severe brain damage. According to a report by The Associated Press at the time, police asked for blood samples from male employees, and a registered nurse’s aide was later convicted of rape and sent to prison.