Investigation underway after woman in vegetative state gives birth at Valley facility

PHOENIX (FOX 10) -- Arizona health and law enforcement agencies are investigating allegations of sexual abuse, after a baby is born to a patient that has been in a vegetative state for several years.

A source close to the investigation says the patient is a 20-year-old woman who became comatose after a near-drowning, and was being cared for at a Hacienda Healthcare facility. The patient was reportedly sexually assaulted by someone who had access to her at Hacienda Healthcare, and the staff reportedly did not know she was pregnant until the baby was born.

Phoenix Police is just one of the agencies investigating this case, and currently, the mother and the baby boy are being treated at Maricopa Medical Center.

Hacienda Healthcare says it cannot comment specifically on the investigation, nor can it comment on the patient in this case, but the provider says it is conducting its own internal investigation, and cooperating with the police investigation.

As shocking as this case is, experts say sexual abuse of people with disabilities happen more often than we know.

"There was a national survey done on people with disabilities and abuse, and 70% of the people with disabilities reported some kind of abuse. 40% of those cases were people who were sexually abused," said Erica McFadden with the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council.

McFadden says patients who have intellectual disabilities, along with non-verbal patients, are easier targets. 

"May not understand what good touch or bad touch is. May not understand the difference between a girlfriend or boyfriend or staff," said McFadden.

State agencies are working to find out how bad of a problem this is in Arizona, and how to protect the most vulnerable patients. Meanwhile, Hacienda Healthcare administrators say they are reviewing their processes and protocol, and making sure every resident is safe and properly cared for.

The Arizona Department of Health Services is requiring heightened safety measures, including an increase in staff presence and more careful monitoring.

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