But on Friday, the operator, Hacienda HealthCare, backtracked. It said it now planned to stay open, under increased state oversight, after regulators balked, saying in a letter that they were concerned about the “health and safety” impacts of moving the center’s patients elsewhere if it was shuttered.
Hacienda said in a letter to state regulators that it would “provide the safest possible care for our clients and chart a path forward that meets all of our interests.” The operator’s board also voted in favor of being regulated by the Arizona Department of Health Services.
“This is good news and the best immediate outcome as it means Hacienda patients and families would be allowed to stay in the home they’ve known for years while ensuring new and enhanced protections and oversight are put in place,” Patrick Ptak, a spokesman for Doug Ducey, the Republican governor of Arizona, said in a statement Friday. “Due to the medically fragile condition of this community, keeping patients where they reside was always our preferred choice and the safest option for patients.”
A spokesman for the company said Thursday that 37 patients would be affected if the facility were closed.
The exchange is the latest twist in a case that has spurred widespread scrutiny over how people with disabilities like those at Hacienda are cared for. A criminal investigation began last month after news emerged that a woman at Hacienda who cannot talk or walk unexpectedly gave birth to a boy in December. (The baby is said to be doing well and is in the custody of the woman’s family.)
The family of the woman could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.
After Friday’s vote by its board, Hacienda and the state health department are expected to come to a formal agreement that would keep the center open under the department’s oversight.
The state health department said the agreement would require Hacienda to contract with a third-party consultant to oversee its operations, to have an on-site monitor to make sure changes are put into place, to have an independent team review the level of care there and to develop a long-term plan for the Phoenix site.
Hacienda said in a statement Friday that it had already installed dozens of new security cameras at the nursing center, retained off-duty police officers for security and increased training for the staff.
The health department said it “will continue to work directly with Hacienda to ensure the residents are cared for in a safe and therapeutic environment.”
In January, a former nurse at the Hacienda center assigned to treat the woman was charged with having sexually assaulted her. The nurse, Nathan Sutherland, 36, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to that charge and to a count of child abuse. A DNA sample taken from Sutherland was eventually found to match that of the baby, police said.
Ducey has raised the possibility of deploying the state attorney general’s office in a wide-ranging investigation into the company. He has also requested a broader investigation into Hacienda’s management, with a focus on possible financial fraud and “violations of Arizona’s civil rights act” in its company culture.
The company itself has hired a former top prosecutor in Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located, to conduct its own investigation of the sexual assault allegations. Hacienda HealthCare’s chief executive resigned in January.