US police have demanded DNA from all male employees at a long-term care facility in Phoenix, USA, where a patient who had been in a vegetative state for years gave birth.
The unidentified woman delivered a baby on December 29, triggering reviews by state agencies and putting a spotlight on safety concerns for patients who are severely disabled or incapacitated.
The institution at the centre of the scandal, Hacienda HealthCare, said it welcomed the DNA testing of employees.
“We will continue to cooperate with Phoenix Police and all other investigative agencies to uncover the facts in this deeply disturbing, but unprecedented situation,” the company said in a statement.
Local news website Azfamily.com first reported the woman had been in a vegetative state for more than 10 years after a near-drowning.
San Carlos Apache officials announced on Tuesday that the 29-year-old woman was an enrolled member of the tribe, whose reservation is in south eastern Arizona, about 134 miles east of Phoenix.
The woman’s name was redacted from the tribal statement. It’s also unclear if staff members at the facility were aware of her pregnancy until the birth.
“On behalf of the tribe, I am deeply shocked and horrified at the treatment of one of our members,” tribal chairman Terry Rambler said. “When you have a loved one committed to palliative care, when they are most vulnerable and dependent upon others, you trust their caretakers. Sadly, one of her caretakers was not to be trusted and took advantage of her. It is my hope that justice will be served.”
A lawyer for the woman’s family released a statement Tuesday saying relatives were outraged at the “neglect of their daughter” and had asked for privacy.
“The family would like me to convey that the baby boy has been born into a loving family and will be well cared for,” Phoenix attorney John Micheaels said.
San Carlos Apache Police chief Alejandro Benally said Phoenix police “will do all they can to find the perpetrator” and his department will assist “in any way possible.”
A spokesman for Hacienda HealthCare said investigators served a search warrant Tuesday to obtain DNA samples from all male staffers.
In a statement, board member Gary Orman said the facility “will accept nothing less than a full accounting of this absolutely horrifying situation”.
“We will do everything in our power to ensure the safety of every single one of our patients and our employees,” Orman said.
Hacienda CEO Bill Timmons stepped down Monday, spokesman David Leibowitz said. The decision was unanimously accepted by the provider’s board of directors.
Gov Doug Ducey’s office has called the situation “deeply troubling.”
Phoenix police so far have declined comment.
The Hacienda facility serves infants, children and young adults who are “medically fragile” or have developmental disabilities, according to the website. In the wake of the reports, the Arizona Department of Health Services said new safety measures have been implemented.
They include increased staff presence during any patient interaction, more monitoring of patient care areas and additional security measures involving visitors.