Comatose Woman Was Last Examined by Doctor More Than 8 Months Prior to Giving Birth in Facility
The 29-year-old Native American woman has been a resident of the facility for more than 27 years.
Court records in the case of a woman in a long-term vegetative state who gave birth last month in an Arizona nursing facility reveal that her last doctor’s examination took place more than eight months prior to the birth, PEOPLE confirms.
In addition, those records show the 29-year-old Native American woman has been a resident of the facility run by Hacienda HealthCare for more than 27 years, almost double the length of time that appeared in previous reports.
The records obtained by PEOPLE from Maricopa County Superior Court date back to a 2009 order that transferred guardianship of the woman from her biological father to her mother.
Those documents state that in affirming the need to continue guardianship for the woman, she “lacks sufficient understanding and mental capacity to make decisions or give consents for her medical, placement or financial estate.”
A report from April 2009 further states that an investigator at the time “interviewed” the woman at the long-term care facility where she has lived since 1992 and found her “severely developmentally disabled” and in need of “total care.” The report added: “She is unable to communicate and requires a maximum level of assistance with all activities of daily living.”
Phoenix police have confirmed a sexual assault investigation concerning the woman’s pregnancy that resulted in the Dec. 29 birth of a baby boy — a birth that, according to Sgt, Tommy Thompson, “took everyone [at the facility] by surprise.”
Thompson tells PEOPLE: “It’s my impression that the staff there had no clue that this lady was having a baby.”
According to the documents, the woman suffers from quadriplegia, recurrent pneumonia and a seizure disorder.
Even so, an annual guardian’s report filed with the court and dated April 30, 2018, says that the woman’s last court-ordered annual doctor’s examination took place on April 16, 2018.
“No changes,” says a handwritten note in response to a form question asking whether there have been “any major changes in the ward’s physical and/or mental condition in the last year.”
PEOPLE was unable to reach the doctor who performed the examination.
Police and Hacienda HealthCare both have confirmed the collection of DNA from male staffers in an effort to find a link to the apparent assault of the woman, who is recovering with her child in an area hospital, say police.
Several factors could have led to the woman’s condition being overlooked, says Dr. Mark Ashley, the CEO and founder of the California-based Centre for Neuro Skills who sits on the board of the Brain Injury Association of America, and is not involved in the current case.
While care of such patients is overseen by trained nurses, “the nursing staff probably was not involved in her personal care — the showering, the toileting, the dressing, the undressing,” says Ashley. “That would have largely fallen to aides.”
The lower ranks of certified nursing assistants receive less-sophisticated training, smaller paychecks, and see typically higher turnover, he says. “If a staff member sees her in the first trimester, and a second staff member sees her in the second trimester … you can imagine they’re seeing her for a short time and not recognizing changes” in the patient, he says.
“The staff would have known if she was menstruating,” he adds. But in the case of brain injury patients, “the complication is that the menstrual cycle may not have been regular. A patient may have just a few periods within a year, or may menstruate regularly, or anything in between.” Thus, an interrupted cycle may not have stood out.
“You have all of these factors that, in the worst of all situations, could combine to a legitimate miss, if you will,” he says.
• with reporting by CHRISTINE PELISEK
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