Suspect Nathan Sutherland
Suspect Nathan Sutherland's booking photo. Image: Maricopa County Sheriff's Office

With the rest of the world, the nursing profession was shocked when it learned that a woman who was in a vegetative state in a long-term care facility gave birth to a baby boy on December 29. The arrest of a licensed practical nurse, after a positive DNA result, was announced on January 23 by Jeri Williams, the police chief in Phoenix, Arizona.

The nurse, Nathan Sutherland who is 36 years old, was jailed for two felony charges, namely sexual assault, and vulnerable adult abuse. He has been released on $500,000 bail with his next court appearance due on January 30. As part of their investigation into the case, police had obtained court orders and conducted DNA tests on some men who worked at Hacienda HealthCare where the 29-year old victim was a patient. Sutherland’s DNA matched that of the baby. According to his lawyer, he had no prior record, and there was no evidence besides the DNA test collected by the police department. An independent DNA test was requested.

Sutherland had worked at Hacienda HealthCare since 2012, and after his arrest, the facility reported that they had done extensive background checks when he was appointed. This included searches on whether he had a criminal history or was listed as a sexual offender. The state had issued him with a Fingerprint Clearance Card at the time.

Sutherland’s nursing license is current, and last year he indicated that he wanted to take leadership classes and enroll in a nursing program to become an RN. The mother of another patient said that she experienced Sutherland as compassionate and caring, and the last person she would have suspected. He was terminated from Hacienda Health Care the moment they were notified of the arrest.

The facility has already introduced new protocols for improved security for their patients. This includes that if a male enters the room of a female patient he must be accompanied by a female employee. The CEO of Hacienda HealthCare resigned within days of the baby being born and one of the doctors responsible for caring for the woman has resigned while another has been suspended.

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The 29-year-old woman, in this case, has been a patient in the facility since 1992. One of the most shocking parts of this case was that no-one knew that she was pregnant until just before the actual birth. Nurses noticed that something was wrong when she started moaning and immediately notified emergency services. A healthy baby boy was delivered, is in good health, and being cared for by family members.

While official sources describe the victim as having been in a vegetative state, her family’s lawyer issued a statement that according to her parents she is not in a coma but has severe disabilities. They said that she responds to sound and makes facial gestures. She also reacts to people she is familiar with, likes to be read to and enjoys soft music.

One of the prosecutors in the case stated that the charges against Sutherland were very serious. The woman who was sexually assaulted was a very vulnerable adult, unable to resist, cry out or do anything but submit to what was done to her.

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