Behind the Curtain— Patient Abuse


A woman in a vegetative state gives birth… how?

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Earlier this year, a woman who has been in a vegetative state for 14 years shocked everyone by giving birth at Hacienda Healthcare Facility. Taken by surprise, the baby was birthed on December 29th, 2019, prompting an immediate investigation on the caretakers of the young woman.

The family, however, wanted to make it clear that their daughter was in fact not in a coma, but rather had significant intellectual problems which caused her to be unresponsive. Nonetheless, according to her parents, “she has feelings, likes to be read to, enjoys soft music and is capable of responding to people she is familiar with, especially family.” These statements suggest that she was fully aware during the sexual assault.

The 36-year-old licensed nurse, Nathan Sutherland, was charged with one count of sexual assault and one count of vulnerable adult abuse, according to court documents from Maricopa County Superior Court. Ordered to provide a DNA sample, technicians were able to confirm that his DNA did, indeed, match that of the infant.

Patient abuse is a common, nationwide concern.

Elder Abuse

Sadly, the most common form of abuse is that of elderly patients in nursing homes who depend on their caretakers.

The break down of elder abuse complaints are distributed as follows…

Elder abuse complaints according to the National Center for Victims of Crime

But what determines “patient abuse?”

Patient abuse or neglect is any action or failure to act which causes unreasonable suffering, misery or harm to the patient.

Typical types of abuse/neglect include…

  • General neglect and failure to provide basic needs
  • Physical abuse or violence
  • Emotional, verbal and psychological abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Financial abuse and monetary manipulation and exploitation

How to determine if a patient is being abuse

According to

Physical Abuse

  • An injury that is not immediately reported to the patient’s family. the caretaker may be hiding the harm they are responsible for
  • Burns. a patient should never be burned as a patient’s environment should be free of burn risk.
  • Bruises. a bruise should strike as unusual as nothing should be hitting the patient when under care.
  • Non-reaction to pain. Patients who are repeatedly subjected to physical abuse may eventually stop showing any outward reaction or response.

Theft of pain medication

  • Significant changes in the dosage of pain medication administered to a patient. Drug-seeking caretakers sometimes hide the theft of painkillers by falsely recording that the drug was administered to a patient.
  • Obviously impaired caretakers. Drug-seeking caretakers will attempt to continue working even when they are under the influence of drugs.

Emotional abuse

  • Verbal insults and threats. A caretaker you observe threatening or insulting a patient you do not know is probably also willing to threaten or insult your senior relative when you are not there.
  • Physically isolated patients. a patient isolated from other patients should strike as a warning as caretakers should not do this to hide their wrongdoings.
  • Fearful patients. Patients fearful to be alone with a caretaker might have suffered verbal or physical abuse at the caretaker’s hands.

Patient neglect

  • Weight loss and weight gain. Every substantial change in weight should have a medical explanation.
  • Poor dental care. A lack of dental care can lead to other, more serious medical problems.
  • Poor physical hygiene. Cleanliness is absolutely essential to good health.
  • Pressure sores that do not heal. Pressure sores are almost always avoidable and curable.
  • Torn or dirty clothes. A facility that does not have adequate resources to properly care for patients may do the laundry less frequently.
  • Unusual requests for food, such as begging for something to eat or asking for food immediately after a served meal. Busy caretakers may fail to notice that a patient has lost the ability to get food from a plate to his mouth.

What would you do?

You see a caretaker spending the money of her elderly patient with Alzheimer’s disease for her own expenses. He obviously does not want to be there, but also does not know what to do or why he is there—he is helpless. “It’s fine, he won’t remember,” she says. What would you do?

This was tested as a social experiment. Click the link below to watch the reactions recorded.

What to actually do…

Call 911. No one needs police protection more than those who are unable to protect themselves. If you witness patient abuse or neglect with your own eyes, call 911. If you see bruises or other injuries that look like they may have resulted from abuse, call 911.

What ‘they’ will do in response…

Who are ‘they’ and what will they do?

The Police will then investigate further to find the root of the issue and a solution. Usually leading to a lawsuit at the least, and usually incarceration, the aim of their investigation is to secure a safe environment for those in need of proper care.

The report will remain confidential to prevent individuals from holding back from reporting the issue.

To learn more about how, when, and who to report to, visit

Federal Employment Laws adhere to the legal responsibilities of caregivers.

What are these laws?

  1. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
  2. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  3. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973
  4. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974
  5. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  6. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967

More extensive information can be found at

“Attorney General: Patient Abuse and Neglect,” October 4, 2019.


Hanna, Jason, and Keith Allen. “Nurse Accused of Impregnating Woman in Vegetative State Who Gave Birth.” CNN, January 23, 2019.

Jones, Sheena, and Keith Allen. “Doctors Who Cared for Arizona Sexual Assault Victim No Longer Treating Patients There.” CNN, January 22, 2019.

“Statistics on Nursing Home Abuse – Get the Facts You Need.” Accessed April 23, 2019.

Williams, Joan C., Robin Devaux, and Patricija Petrac. “Protecting Family Caregivers from Employment Discrimination,” n.d.

McDonell-Parry, Amelia. “Woman in 14-Year Coma Gives Birth in Arizona.” Rolling Stone, January 23, 2019.

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  1. April 26, 2019 by Eliana.Jenkins

    I really appreciate the originality of this topic because I would’ve never thought of patient abuse to be as common as it actually is! Thanks for educating me as well as others who explore your campaign 🙂

  2. April 27, 2019 by Orly.Richter

    This was a fascinating topic! I’m involved in the healthcare field, so this is a subject that I care about. It’s horrifying to realize that people in positions of power are taking advantage of those who lack autonomy, especially given that they are placed there to help these people and instead cause them harm. I’m so glad that you chose to bring awareness to this because it so often goes unnoticed, but it is critical that we work to change this reality.

  3. April 28, 2019 by Chloe.Smith-Frank

    Hi Hana,
    Thank you so much for making this incredibly important presentation. I was wondering what oversight there is surrounding nursing homes in the United States (mandatory reporting, etc.)? Do any nursing homes receive federal or state funding (which I assume would increase the amount of monitoring they receive?)

  4. April 28, 2019 by Olivia Hebert

    The statistics you included are very successful in conveying the prominence of patient abuse. This is a topic that is not often talked about. How often does patient abuse get reported?

  5. April 30, 2019 by Ava.Glazier

    Hi Hana – this is a fascinating topic! I read the article of the women giving birth in a vegetative state when it first came out and my history class had a huge discussion about it so this was really cool to see in your presentation now. I really appreciated that you included helpful statistics and guidelines for how to determine if a patient is being abused. One question I would have is what background checks are being conducted on these abusive healthcare providers, as well as how many of their colleagues know that this is happening and don’t say anything.

  6. May 03, 2019 by Alex.Black

    This is an interesting topic since this issue is often overlooked, partly because abusive medical staff often target or exploit vulnerable patients (those who are vulnerable could be less likely to take action). It’s saddening to think that medical staff, who are highly trusted in society, are sometimes abusing people in their most vulnerable times when they lack a voice. What do you think is the best way to prevent this in the future? You did a good job of choosing the name of your project since it was eye-catching, and drew my attention immediately.

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