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State of Arizona reaches deal with Hacienda to keep unit open

(AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — Two Arizona agencies have stepped in to prevent Hacienda HealthCare from closing the unit of its Phoenix facility where an incapacitated woman gave birth late last year after being sexually assaulted.

Meeting a Friday afternoon deadline, Hacienda agreed to give the Arizona Department of Health Services licensing authority over the Intermediate Care Facility for the Intellectually Disabled unit.

Earlier in the day, Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (the state’s Medicaid agency) and the state Department of Economic Security had issued a 4 p.m. deadline for Hacienda to respond to a request for information about its plan to close the unit.

“Given the high medical risks associated with transferring these patients, moving this medically fragile community is the option of last resort and not the state’s goal,” AHCCCS spokeswoman Heidi Capriotti said in email about the deal to keep the facility open.

“We are confident that with ADHS exercising licensing authority, and a continued commitment by AHCCCS and DES to do everything they can to ensure the health and safety of members, this is the best immediate outcome for all parties involved.”

A closure would have forced the relocation of nearly 40 intellectually disabled patients.

Patrick Ptak, a spokesman for Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, called the result “good news and the best immediate outcome.”

“Our agencies will continue to work with Hacienda to implement a voluntary regulatory agreement with strong oversight and accountability measures that ensure safety and quality care going forward for patients,” Ptak said in an email.

Under the agreement, Hacienda will have to devise a long-term plan and timeline that prioritizes health and safety at the intermediate care facility where the victim resided.

Hacienda will also have to employ an on-site evaluator to make sure necessary changes have been met. The care provider will have to work with an outside health care consultant until the state finds it is in compliance. All these conditions will also apply to the Skilled Nursing Facility, which shares the same campus.

“In light of the recent events, we have complied with directives from multiple state agencies and done everything in our power to ensure the safety and welfare of our patients,” Hacienda said in a statement after the agreement had been announced.

Among the changes now in place as a result of the incident, we have installed dozens of cameras and monitors; enhanced security; hired off-duty police officers to provide facility security; and retrained every Hacienda staff member on abuse and neglect protocols using an AHCCCS-approved training module.”

On Thursday, Hacienda said its board of directors had voted last week to close the unit, saying “that it is simply not sustainable to continue to operate” the unit and would start moving patients out.

But the AHCCCS and DES sent Hacienda a letter Friday challenging the board’s reasoning.

“Your recent correspondence and statements to the media make it clear that rather than complying with the prior agreement to bring in a third party and without a definite plan to address challenges Hacienda faced with the third party it chose, such as costs, the Board of Directors decided to close the facility citing the facility’s lack of financial viability,” the letter said.

Hacienda had been directed to hire a third-party manager or risk having its provider agreement be terminated. A deal with Indiana-based Benchmark Human Services appeared to be in place by a state-imposed deadline, but it was never finalized.

A 29-year-old incapacitated woman who has limited mobility and can’t speak gave birth at the facility on Dec. 29, prompting police to launch a sexual assault investigation.

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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