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A Woman With Developmental Disabilities Was Abused in Arizona. The State Promised Changes. It Has Not Made Them Yet.

A woman with DD living in a state home was raped and had a baby. A task force was made to come up with changes to protect people like her. Most of those changes have not happened yet.

This is Hacienda HealthCare. It is in Phoenix. This is where a woman with DD was raped. She had a baby here two years ago. (Matt York/AP)

We wrote this story in plain language. Plain language means it is easier to read for some people. You can read the original version here.

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The Arizona Daily Star worked with us to write this story. They are part of ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network.

In 2018, a crime happened in Arizona. A woman was raped. Raped means someone had sex with her when she did not want to.

The woman lives in a long-term care facility. She can not walk or talk. Staff help care for her. She was 29 when she was raped.

She got pregnant from the rape. She had a baby on New Year’s Eve in 2018. No one knew she was pregnant.

The place where this happened was Hacienda HealthCare in Phoenix. Many people across the USA were very angry this woman got hurt this way.

Arizona is known for being a good place to live if you have a developmental disability (DD) like this woman. The state wanted to change so bad things like this wouldn’t happen again.

The governor of Arizona is named Doug Ducey. He made a task force to help protect people like the woman who was raped. This group is made up of leaders from across the state. They include:

  • Leaders of government programs
  • People working in health care
  • People running group homes
  • Advocates

They are called the Governor’s Abuse and Neglect Prevention Task Force.

Abuse means to hurt someone you are supposed to care for. Neglect means to not take care of them.

This group made a list of ideas to better protect people with DD. They gave this list to the government more than a year ago. Most of their ideas were supposed to happen in 2020.

The group had 30 ideas for changes. Only about 10 changes have been made. It could take months or years for all the changes to happen.

Here are some examples of the changes they suggested:

  1. Make a single list with all the people in Arizona who have abused:
    • Children
    • Adults who need extra help
    • People with DD
  2. Give training to staff and family about how to know if someone they care about has been abused.

These changes have not happened yet.

One member of the task force is Jon Meyers. He runs The Arc of Arizona. That is a group that speaks up for people with DD. He said many people are frustrated that the changes have not all happened yet.

Many of the changes cost money. One change would be to pay staff more. They would stay at their jobs longer and have more training if the job paid more. The group also wants to pay more to the people who check to see if abuse happened.

But the government has not asked for more money to pay for these things.

Jon said, “That’s so obviously not going to happen it’s a wonder we could include it with a straight face.”

The government program in charge of helping people with DD in Arizona is called the Division of Developmental Disabilities. It’s also called DDD.

People on the task force said DDD ignored their ideas. They want DDD to be:

  • Transparent: That means making it easier for everyone to know what they are doing.
  • Accountable: That means taking responsibility for what happens to people with DD in Arizona.

DDD made a website with some new info. It is about safety at places like group homes. It only has basic facts.

Another government program is Adult Protective Services (APS). Its job is to check to see if people with DD have been abused. It changed its website too. Its new website still does not have a lot of info. For example, you can’t see if a group home has had problems with abuse in the past.

A worker for the government said DDD and APS are not allowed to share more info. But other people think they could be sharing more. Other programs can give more info about places like hospitals and nursing homes.

Will Humble is in charge of the Arizona Public Health Association. He has a son with Down syndrome. He said, “At a real practical level, a family member who is considering a group home environment should be able to look at all the complaints that have been filed and the resolutions to get the compliance history for that individual home and that individual provider.”

This means he thinks people should know if there have been problems at group homes. That way they can decide if it is a good choice to live there.

The task force has reached some of its goals. Arizona’s Medicaid agency has a new rule. Group homes must have signs telling people how to report abuse. The signs are for:

  • People with DD
  • Their loved ones
  • Staff

The signs are not done yet. DDD made some signs but self-advocates with DD said they were hard to understand. DDD is making new ones now.

People who work for the government said changes are happening. They said half are done or being done now.

Jami Snyder is in charge of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System. That is the government program that is taking the lead on making these changes. Jami said: “I actually am really proud of the work that the task force has done. I think the agencies have done a lot of really phenomenal work since that time. I think we have more work to do.”

Christina Corieri works for the governor of Arizona. She is happy with the task force. She said: “We have implemented many of [the changes]. We are committed to implementing all of them.”

The Department of Economic Security is in charge of DDD. They wrote a statement that said they are “committed to ensuring the health and safety of vulnerable individuals.”

It also said, “We support the work and recommendations of the Task Force and have strong collaboration across state agencies and with stakeholders in the joint commitment to improve the quality of life for vulnerable Arizonans.”

The Wheels of Government

DDD gave out instructions this year for staff. They show staff how to:

  • Know if someone is being abused
  • Make sure they don’t hurt someone who has been abused even more
  • Share about abuse where they work

There is no money to give this training to staff. That will make it hard to do.

This is what Gina Griffiths said. Gina works for Opportunity Tree. They run group homes and programs in Phoenix. Gina is on the task force.

She said: “I don’t know why any of this has taken as long as it’s taken. The wheels of government really do turn slowly.”

The task force wants workers at APS to have better training too. This training would help them notice when people with DD are being abused. APS said they will have this training done by June 2021.

There are some problems the task force did not have ideas for. One problem is support coordinators. These are workers at DDD who help make sure people with DD have what they need. Some of the problems are:

  • They do not make a lot of money.
  • They quit their jobs a lot.
  • They don’t have much training.

These problems were not mentioned by the task force.

Diedra Freedman is part of a group that helped the task force. She is also part of an independent oversight committee. That group makes sure DDD is doing what it is supposed to do. Her son has autism.

Diedra said, “In two years of work, the bureaucracy has created a flowchart that explains the system, but they have not in any way improved the system.”

Pandemic Problems

Some changes have been slow because of COVID-19.

Erica McFadden runs the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council. She is on the task force. She said the changes should happen faster because of COVID-19.

She thinks abuse could happen more now. Places like group homes can’t have visitors because of the virus.

Erica said Arizona should learn from what happened at Hacienda. If they took it seriously, they “would have ensured how to proactively react to members at this time.”

She said, “This should not be a fight.”

One thing that makes changing things harder is that some people in the government left their jobs. This includes the people in charge of:

  • DDD
  • APS
  • The Department of Economic Security

It is hard when people leave because new leaders have to learn how things work.

Some people on the task force are not interested in it anymore. They think they can’t make a difference.

G’Kyshia Hughes is part of a group that helped the task force. She works in social services. She takes care of her brother with autism.

G’Kyshia stopped going to meetings. She thinks they can’t make changes if they don’t have money.

She said, “What’s the point of putting these things together if you don’t know for sure that the Legislature is going to give you funding for it? It’s just a document with no teeth.”

Dana Kennedy is also on the task force. She runs AARP Arizona. She thinks the Arizona government doesn’t think protecting people with DD is very important. She thinks it won’t be a big issue when they meet to make new laws for Arizona in 2021.

She said: “It’s just maddening to me because we already had a Hacienda. We didn’t get anything done through the Legislature. And now here we are starting another legislative session and ... nobody's talking about it.”

A Healthy Child

The woman who was raped at Hacienda had a baby two years ago. The little boy turns 2 on Dec. 31.

He lives with his grandparents. They are on the San Carlos Apache Reservation. That is near Globe, Arizona.

His mother does not live at Hacienda anymore. She lives at a smaller facility in Phoenix. Her family would like her to live closer to them. But there are no places nearby that could help her the way she needs.

Her lawyer is John Micheaels. He sued:

  • Hacienda HealthCare
  • The woman’s doctors
  • The state of Arizona

Three cases are settled. Arizona paid her $7.5 million. Hacienda and one doctor did not announce how much they paid. None of the three admitted to doing anything wrong.

This is Nathan Sutherland. He is a nurse. He is accused of raping the woman who had a baby at Hacienda. She had the baby in December 2018. She was 29 years old. (Tom Tingle/The Arizona Republic via AP)

Nathan Sutherland used to work at Hacienda. He was arrested in January 2019. He is charged with sexual assault and abuse. He pleaded not guilty. His lawyer did not return our call asking for a comment.

John Michaeals says the woman’s parents are raising her son. They have help from his mother’s 6 siblings. He says the boy is healthy. People were worried because his mother was taking medicine for seizures when he was born.

The family did not want to talk to us for the story. They have not spoken to the news. The boy’s grandmother told us no.

John said, “She told me that thinking about it gives her a pit in her stomach.”

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