Sexual Assault Probe Starts After Woman in Vegetative State Gives Birth

Zachary Stieber
By Zachary Stieber
January 4, 2019US News
Sexual Assault Probe Starts After Woman in Vegetative State Gives Birth
A Hacienda HealthCare facility in Phoenix, Arizona. (Google Street View)

The Phoenix Police Department has launched a sexual assault investigation after a woman in a vegetative state gave birth to a baby boy on Dec. 29.

The probe wasn’t launched until after the birth because staffers at the Hacienda HealthCare facility claimed to be unaware that the woman was pregnant.

“None of the staff were aware that she was pregnant until she was pretty much giving birth,” a source told CBS 5, adding that it wasn’t known until the woman started moaning.

“There was a nurse that was there, and from what I’ve heard she’s the one that delivered the baby,” the female source added, noting the baby was healthy.

The woman who gave birth has been in a vegetative state for at least a decade. Because of the possible sexual abuse, the facility has reportedly implemented a policy requiring any male staffers that enter the woman’s room to be accompanied by a female staffer.

Hacienda HealthCare spokeswoman Nancy Salmon declined to comment on the case, citing privacy laws and the ongoing investigation.

On its website, the business describes itself as “Arizona’s leading provider of specialized health care services for medically fragile and chronically ill infants, children, teens, and young adults as well as those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”

Hacienda HealthCare is the organizational “umbrella” for several Phoenix-based health care programs and services for infants, children, teens, and adults, the website states.

The Phoenix Police Department confirmed the matter is under investigation.

“We are aware of this situation and are actively working with local law enforcement in their criminal investigation. Upon learning of the allegation, Arizona Department of Health Services immediately initiated an onsite complaint investigation to ensure the health and safety of the patients and ensure the facility is in compliance with all state laws and regulations,” the state’s Department of Health Services added in a statement.

“During this time, the agency 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.”

Persistent Vegetative State

According to the Mayo Clinic, a coma is a state of prolonged unconsciousness that can be caused by a variety of problems—traumatic head injury, stroke, brain tumor, drug or alcohol intoxication, or even an underlying illness, such as diabetes or an infection.

But comas seldom last longer than several weeks.

“People who are unconscious for a longer period of time may transition to a persistent vegetative state. Depending on the cause of a coma, people who are in a persistent vegetative state for more than one year are extremely unlikely to awaken,” the clinic stated.

The Merck Manual notes that a vegetative state in which the patient’s functions are working as normal except for cognitive function.

“Hypothalamic and medullary brain stem functions remain intact to support cardiorespiratory and autonomic functions and are sufficient for survival if medical and nursing care is adequate,” it stated.

“Patients in a vegetative state show no evidence of awareness of self or environment and cannot interact with other people. Purposeful responses to external stimuli are absent, as are language comprehension and expression.”

Even in a vegetative state, limbs may move but the movements are primitive, such as grasping an object that comes into contact with a hand.

“Pain usually elicits a motor response (typically decorticate or decerebrate posturing) but no purposeful avoidance. Patients have fecal and urinary incontinence. Cranial nerve and spinal reflexes are typically preserved. Rarely, brain activity, detected by functional MRI or EEG, indicates a response to questions and commands even though there is no behavioral response,” the manual stated.

“The extent of patients’ actual awareness is not yet known. In most patients who have such brain activity, the vegetative state resulted from traumatic brain injury, not hypoxic encephalopathy.”

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