Nurse Pleads Guilty to Sexual Assault of Long-Term Care Patient Who Later Gave Birth

A former Arizona nurse pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a long-term, incapacitated care facility patient who later gave birth in 2018 to a child revealed to be the nurse's after a DNA test, police said, the Associated Press reported.

The victim resided at Hacienda Healthcare facility in Phoenix for 26 years until she gave birth, after a pregnancy that went unnoticed, when she was 29. Former nurse Nathan Sutherland also entered a guilty plea Thursday to a charge of abusing a vulnerable adult based on his involvement with the victim.

The woman's parents filed a lawsuit alleging Sutherland had treated their daughter hundreds of times between 2012 and 2018 even though Arizona state promised that their daughter would be cared for by women.

In December 2018, an employee found the victim to be in the process of delivering a child while changing her clothes. Police were told by the facility's employees that they had no knowledge of the pregnancy.

A $15 million settlement was approved by a judge against the doctor responsible for the woman's care at Hacienda.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Medical Center Hallway
A former Arizona nurse pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a long-term care facility patient who later gave birth. Above cleaning supplies and waste bins line the hallways of the acute care COVID-19 unit at Harborview Medical Center on May 7, 2020 in Seattle. Karen Ducey/Getty Images

The range of possible sentences for Sutherland is unclear. Sentencing is scheduled for November 4.

Police have said Sutherland's DNA matched a sample taken from the woman's son. The victim's mother is the boy's guardian.

The surprise birth triggered reviews by state agencies, highlighted safety concerns for patients who are severely disabled or incapacitated and prompted the resignations of Hacienda's chief executive and one of the victim's doctors.

The state contracts with companies like Hacienda to provide services to people with developmental disabilities. An expert on behalf of the woman's family has said many of Sutherland's encounters with the patient occurred overnight, when fewer staff members and visitors were around.

Lawyers for the family also said Hacienda missed dozens of signs that the woman was carrying a baby, pointing out that she had gained weight, had a swollen belly and missed menstrual periods in the months before the child was born. They said the victim, who has a feeding tube and whose nutrition was reduced in response to her weight gain during the pregnancy, delivered the boy while severely dehydrated and without pain medications.

The victim's medical conditions stem from a brain disorder that caused motor and cognitive impairments and vision loss. She was also left with no functional use of her limbs.

Sutherland, a licensed practical nurse, was fired by Hacienda after his arrest and has since given up his nursing license.

A judge has approved a $15 million settlement against a doctor who cared for the woman for 26 years while she lived at Hacienda Healthcare. The doctor's insurer has argued it has no obligation to pay that amount.

The state of Arizona settled last summer for $7.5 million.