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Hacienda defends decision to place male nurse with patient

Hacienda is defending its staffing decisions after a notice of claim alleges that the facility went against a rape victim's family's request for female-only staff.

PHOENIX — Allowing a male nurse to treat an incapacitated woman one-on-one at the Hacienda Healthcare facility was not a violation of the woman’s Individual Support Plan (ISP), a spokesperson for the company told 12 News Friday.

A notice of claim filed this week by the woman’s family against the State of Arizona alleges that Hacienda Healthcare was negligent in staffing decisions, leading to the repeated sexual assault of a semi-conscious, quadriplegic woman.  

The patient gave birth December 29 to the surprise of medical staff, who said they had no idea the 29-year-old woman was pregnant. Former Hacienda nurse Nathan Sutherland was arrested for rape and assault.

RELATED: Documents: Incapacitated Hacienda patient who gave birth was repeatedly raped, possibly pregnant before

Specifically, the claim lays out an argument that Sutherland's assignment to care for the incapacitated woman was "in violation of requests and orders."

But a spokesperson for Hacienda is defending the decisions as proper protocol and not unusual in the industry of healthcare.

One exhibit in the notice of claim is the ISP form filled out by the woman's mother in 2017. The form specifically requests "female-staff only." Critics point to that exhibit as evidence that a male nurse should not have been left alone with the woman. 

However, the ISP request as written does not refer to doctors or nurses. Instead, it relates to "personal care," such as help with dressing, bathing and toileting. This category of employees, often referred to as caregivers, provide non-medical duties, said David Leibowitz, a spokesperson for Hacienda.

“Caregiver is a well-known term understood to be a non-licensed employee who provides non-clinical care, someone who might give a patient a bath, change their clothes or transport,” Leibowitz said. “The category of caregiver does not include nurses and doctors.”

In other words, Leibowitz said, having a male nurse treat the woman one-on-one was not unusual and not a violation of the ISP. Sutherland passed background checks when he was hired and was accredited for the job he performed.

"There are male nurses, male doctors and male respiratory therapists. Many people at the clinic would have known there were men caring for this patient," Leibowitz said.

Two former administrators of Hacienda who spoke with 12 News Friday acknowledged this was the case. They say female-only caretakers were understood not to include doctors and nurses.  

However, one former employee questioned whether Hacienda staff should have done more to limit how often the suspect was alone with the patient at night. State lawmakers have previously proposed, unsuccessfully, to require surveillance cameras in patient rooms to provide an extra layer of protection.

Since the scandal broke, Hacienda has been overhauling its policies and patient protocols.

RELATED: A look back at Hacienda Healthcare's problems

The notice of claim accuses the State of Arizona of “aiding and abetting” the crimes because the state was responsible to fund and regulate the agency. The state is enforcing stricter oversight as well, including conducting unannounced site inspections.

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