Attorney Rick Romley will lead an internal review into the case of a patient in a vegetative state who gave birth to a child at Hacienda HealthCare.
Former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley will conduct a “no-holds-barred” internal investigation of the Phoenix facility where a comatose patient was raped and gave birth last month.
Hacienda HealthCare officials confirmed Sunday they hired Romley to lead an examination of patient safety, beginning with how the woman was raped and impregnated without the staff’s knowledge.
Romley, who will lay out his objectives at a news conference on Monday, said he will go where the truth takes him.
“They (the board of directors) assured me it would be no-holds-barred,” Romley told The Arizona Republic. “I told them, if you’re looking for someone to come and do a cursory exam and say everything is hunky-dory, I’m not interested.”
Board wants to know where it failed
Hacienda’s board of directors called the rape a “deeply disturbing matter” and in a statement said the board wants to determine exactly what happened — and ensure nothing like it occurs again.
The board said Romley’s review will be exhaustive.
“Mr. Romley will have unfettered access to every facet of Hacienda’s business —including all the records related to this matter and all the operational procedures related to the (facility),” the board said in a statement.
“We will do everything we can to aid this review and, once it is complete, to make sure this unprecedented situation never, ever happens again,” the statement said.
The board said it also wants justice for the victim.
“We will continue to cooperate fully with the Phoenix police and the agencies investigating this matter,” the statement said. ” Our top priority is to quickly identify the perpetrator and to make sure that person is brought to justice.”
Attorney Rick Romley talks about the internal review he is leading into the case of a patient in a vegetative state who gave birth at Hacienda HealthCare.
Patient safety will drive investigation
Romley said he has been asked to find out how the rape occurred and what the care facility can do to ensure future patient safety.
“I will be looking at all facets that are tied around how a situation as horrendous as this can come about,” he said.
Romley said since Hacienda’s board reached out to him last week, he has hired an independent expert in health care to aid in the investigation. He said they will review all policies and procedures at the facility.
That will include medical standards and staff interactions with patients. Romley said they will not wait to report their findings but instead will make the board aware of deficiencies as they are identified.
“They want to know any details,” he said.
Romley’s examination will be limited to patient safety. He said he has not been asked to look into allegations of fraud, waste or financial mismanagement that have surrounded Hacienda for years.
If such issues “dovetail into patient safety,” his investigation potentially could expand, Romley said.
A Republic investigation showed that Hacienda faced a state criminal investigation over allegations it billed Arizona more than $4 million in bogus charges.
Regulators with Arizona’s social-welfare agency sought to remove developmentally disabled patients from Hacienda HealthCare in 2016 and terminate contracts that allowed the facility to provide services for the state.
The criminal case was dropped in 2017, and no charges were filed. The state’s Medicaid agency later sought an order to force Hacienda to turn over financial records – a battle that continues in civil court.
The 5-minute, 11-second 911 call details the minutes after a woman at Hacienda HealthCare gave birth. Staff can be heard trying to resuscitate the baby.
Phoenix Police Department
Medical staff shocked by birth
Staff members told police they didn’t know their 29-year-old patient was pregnant until she began giving birth Dec. 29.
The woman, a member of the San Carlos Apache tribe, had lived at Hacienda de los Angeles near South Mountain for nearly 26 years. She was admitted when she was 3.
The 112-pound woman is described in court documents as “incapacitated” and “unable to make any decisions or give consent due to her disability.” She is described as having a brain injury, reliant on feeding and breathing tubes and in need of a “maximum level of care.”
On a 911 call released by the Phoenix Police Department, staff members said they were shocked when the woman began delivering the infant.
The woman was in a hospital recuperating with her son.
Romley’s inquiries have resulted in reform
Romley, a highly regarded Republican, frequently consults on issues of legal ethics and has led independent state and county investigations.
Since leaving the County Attorney’s Office in 2004, he has carved out a niche for tackling issues of public corruption, and his investigations have resulted in reforms and criminal convictions. He briefly resumed his role as interim Maricopa County Attorney in 2010.
Romley, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served as a combat infantry squad leader in Vietnam, was appointed by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to oversee a 2006 investigation into a data breach involving the personal information of 26 million veterans. The data was recovered, and Romley recommended an overhaul of VA security.
In 2007, Romley’s investigation into financial irregularities involving Pinal County administrators ended when former County Manager Stanley D. Griffis pleaded guilty to stealing $425,000 meant to pay for road construction.
Romley led a task force to bolster ethics policies for Phoenix’s elected leaders in 2012. A series of incidents at the time revealed the city didn’t have a legal mechanism to investigate or sanction elected officials for violations.
When city officials rejected task force recommendations, Romley criticized officials and said City Council members were “looking for any excuse by which they won’t be held accountable.” A policy was finally established in 2017.
Last year, Romley was asked to assist in an internal investigation into two use-of-force cases involving Mesa police officers who were videotaped punching and hitting suspects in two cases.
Romley said Hacienda’s board wants a full accounting of what happened and where it failed.
“I would not have taken this If there was any indication it would be anything less than hard-core and truthful,” Romley said. “No matter where it goes and how much they may hate it, it is coming.”
Accusations of fraud plague facility
Records show auditors with the Arizona Department of Economic Security accused Hacienda of overbilling the state in 2014 for wages, transportation, housekeeping, maintenance and supplies. They contended the cost of care at the facility was nearly three times the national average.
Hacienda’s board denied wrongdoing and said it believed officials followed the letter of the law. The board described a legal fight over financial records as a civil dispute over what records it is required to turn over to the state.
Former DES Director Timothy Jeffries criticized Gov. Doug Ducey for not following through with Jeffries’ effort to terminate Hacienda’s state contracts and pursue criminal charges. If that effort had continued, the rape never would have occurred, Jeffries said.
Despite the civil court fight, state officials did not sever ties with Hacienda and continued placing patients at the facility. After the rape victim gave birth, they cut off new admissions.
“We are considering alternate options such as bringing in a third party to assume responsibility for the ongoing management of Hacienda,” Gov. Doug Ducey’s office said in a statement Friday.
Jeffries, who was ousted by Ducey in 2016, accused the governor of bowing to political pressure brought by William Timmons, Hacienda’s former president and chief executive officer.
Timmons, who has not responded to repeated requests for an interview, resigned after the woman gave birth.
Ducey’s office denied Timmons exercised any influence. In 2015, the governor signed legislation stripping Hacienda of the statutory monopoly it had for providing certain types of government-funded care.
“We will continue to take a very aggressive approach when it comes to Hacienda,” the governor’s office said.
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