Arizona wants care unit where patient was raped to stay open

FILE - In this Feb. 5, 2019, file pool photo, Nathan Sutherland, accused of raping and impregnating a patient at Hacienda HealthCare, is arraigned in Maricopa County Superior Court in Phoenix, Ariz. The rape of an incapacitated woman at this facility is driving Arizona to catch up to 10 states with laws or regulations governing electronic monitoring and other technology aimed at deterring abuse inside long-term care facilities. Renewed attention on safeguarding vulnerable residents at care centers comes after an incapacitated woman gave birth at the Phoenix facility in Dec. 2018. (Tom Tingle/The Arizona Republic via AP, Pool, File)
FILE - This Jan. 25, 2019, file photo shows the Hacienda HealthCare facility in Phoenix. The long-term care facility in Arizona is shutting down a unit where an incapacitated woman was raped and later gave birth, officials with Hacienda HealthCare announced Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019. Hacienda officials say they're working with state agencies to develop a plan to move the remaining 37 patients to other facilities. (AP Photo/Matt York, file)

PHOENIX — The embattled operators of an Arizona long-term care facility agreed Friday to be regulated by the state, effectively nixing a plan to close down the unit where an incapacitated woman gave birth after being raped.

The state received written confirmation that Hacienda HealthCare would enter into a voluntary regulation agreement, said Patrick Ptak, spokesman for Gov. Doug Ducey.

"This is good news and the best immediate outcome as it means Hacienda patients and families would be allowed to stay in the home they've known for years while ensuring new and enhanced protections and oversight are put in place," Ptak said in a statement.

Hacienda officials said in a statement that the safety and health of patients have always been the "paramount priority." They also reiterated that they have already complied with directives from several state agencies in a short timeframe.

The changes already in place include the installation of dozens of cameras and monitors, enhanced security and retraining for every staff member on identifying and reporting abuse and neglect.

"Our patients, their families, our team members and the community deserve nothing less than this commitment from us," the care provider said.

Under the agreement, Hacienda will have to devise a long-term plan and timeline that prioritizes health and safety at the intermediate care facility where the victim resided. Hacienda will also have to employ an on-site evaluator to make sure necessary changes have been met. The care provider will have to work with an outside health care consultant until the state finds it is in compliance. All these conditions will also apply to the skilled nursing facility, which shares the same campus.

State agencies had issued an ultimatum after Hacienda HealthCare announced its decision to shut down Thursday. The provider would have to comply with an order to hire a long-term third-party management team. The other option was to allow the state Department of Health Services to hold licensing authority over the facility.

A closure would have forced the relocation of nearly 40 intellectually disabled patients, some of who are medically fragile.

State regulators vehemently opposed the idea. They also argued Hacienda contractually requires written consent from the state Department of Economic Security to close any operation.

The facility has been in turmoil since a 29-year-old patient gave birth on Dec. 29. Nathan Sutherland, a nurse whose DNA police said matches a sample from the baby, has pleaded not guilty to charges that he raped her.

Hacienda has struggled to meet the state's request to hire a third-party management team to oversee daily operations. The provider had said its board "after a great deal of careful consideration, has come to understand that it is simply not sustainable to continue to operate our intermediate care facility."

Hacienda operates the only privately-run intermediate care facility in Arizona. It currently serves 37 intellectually disabled children and adults. It would take weeks or months to transition all of them to other places.

"It's not something you can do overnight," said Will Humble, a former director of the Department of Health Services.

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