A severely disabled woman who was raped and later gave birth while in the care of Hacienda HealthCare, a Phoenix facility, had likely been pregnant before, according to newly revealed hospital records.
The woman’s attorneys filed a $45 million notice of claim against the state of Arizona on Wednesday with specific accusations of what the victim endured while at Hacienda HealthCare. The complaint argues that the state “cultivated circumstances” that enabled this misconduct and failed to monitor the long-term care facility “in any meaningful manner.” It contends that Arizona is “vicariously liable for the negligence, gross negligence and medical negligence.”
The 29-year-old victim gave birth to a healthy baby boy on Dec. 29 last year. Hacienda staffers reportedly did not realize that the non-verbal, bedridden patient was pregnant until she began moaning as she was going into labor. (HuffPost is not naming the woman because she is a survivor of rape.)
DNA evidence pointed to Nathan Sutherland, the victim’s main nurse, and he was arrested in January. He was charged with sexual assault and vulnerable adult abuse. Sutherland has pleaded not guilty.
The notice of claim, obtained by HuffPost, alleges that the woman was “violently and repeatedly raped.”
Included in the notice are records from the Maricopa County Medical Center, the hospital the woman was transferred to after giving birth. According to those records, the incident was “a repeat parous event” ― which means the victim had likely been pregnant before. It is unclear if she had carried a pregnancy to term prior to December.
“Examination of the patient’s perineum is very notable for gaping which is abnormal for a young woman following delivery of first infant, also suspicious for history of vaginal trauma,” the medical record reads.
The hospital report also states that the woman had been repeatedly sexually assaulted, both vaginally and anally.
“[The victim] suffered unspeakable terror, anguish, and pain through repeated sexual assaults, probably over many years, and now lives with the emotional and physical scars,” attorneys David Shughart and John Micheaels wrote in the notice of claim.
The woman has been a patient at the Phoenix nursing facility since 1992, when she was 3 years old. As a result of childhood seizures, she is intellectually disabled. She is described in the documents as non-verbal and as having generally been in an unresponsive state since age 3. However, she does experience pain and discomfort and can respond to her surroundings with a groan or a smile.
Sutherland provided care to the victim more than 1,000 times between 2017 and 2018, according to Hacienda records included in the complaint. They indicate he saw her regularly up until two days before she gave birth.
Based on a preliminary review of Hacienda’s records, the lawyers allege that the health care facility documented at least 83 missed opportunities to diagnose the victim’s pregnancy. A doctor saw the woman at least 10 times in her third trimester, the notice of claim says.
“A simple blood test would have revealed [the victim’s] pregnancy; however, this was never done and [the victim] in all likelihood continued to be raped even in her fragile, vulnerable and pregnant state,” the lawyers argue.
Staff had no idea the woman was pregnant until the afternoon of Dec. 29, when a nurse went to change the victim and “saw a baby’s head in her briefs,” according to the notice of claim.
The parents of the victim are described as “devastated with a myriad of emotions.” The complaint says they are filled with guilt over “leaving their daughter at Hacienda and sadness and disgust over imagining what she felt without any ability to communicate to them.”
The victim’s parents had previously requested that their daughter be cared for by female nurses. Although Hacienda allegedly assured them that would happen, it did not, according to the lawyers.
“The unspeakable atrocities perpetrated upon [the victim] occurred as a result of systemic and individual misconduct and mismanagement at the Hacienda ICF-ID, and virtually non-existent oversight on the part of the State,” the victim’s attorneys wrote.
The claim seeks a $25 million settlement for the woman and $10 million for each of her parents. If the state does not settle within two months, the claim says they will go to court.
Need help? Visit RAINN's National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center's website.