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Arizona strengthens protections for disabled after Hacienda assault

The Hacienda HealthCare facility is shown Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — Arizona moved to strengthen protections for people with disabilities Wednesday after a nurse was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting an incapacitated patient at Hacienda HealthCare.

In an executive order, Gov. Doug Ducey called on Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (the state’s Medicaid agency), Arizona Department of Health Services and the Department of Economic Security to develop protocols on preventing, recognizing and reporting abuse and neglect of people with disabilities.

“All Arizonans deserve to be safe — and we have a special responsibility to protect those with disabilities,” Ducey said in a statement.

“This executive order provides increased accountability and stricter oversight, ensuring our most vulnerable are safe and protected. There’s more that needs to be done to ensure Arizona is guarding against abuse and neglect,” the statement continued.

“We will continue working with all stakeholders to take additional action, and hold bad actors accountable, to guarantee the highest quality of care and protection for Arizonans with disabilities.”

The order would require staff that have direct contact with patients with disabilities to undergo annual training in abuse prevention.

The three agencies will also put together a group to determine whether more actions could be taken to improve care for people with disabilities.

The group would be ordered to submit a report to the governor’s office by Nov. 1.

The order comes one day after Ducey called on Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich to take legal action against Hacienda HealthCare.

On Dec. 29, an unidentified 29-year-old incapacitated patient, who could not speak and had very minimal movement, gave birth.

Nathan Sutherland, a Hacienda nurse who cared for the patient during the time of the alleged sexual assault, was arrested on Jan. 23, after investigators said they matched his DNA to the baby’s.

He has since pleaded not guilty to the charges of sexual assault and abuse of a vulnerable adult.

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