A pregnant woman. For illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Gulf News archives

Arizona: Police collected the DNA of male employees of a private nursing home in Arizona on Tuesday as they continued to investigate allegations that a woman in a vegetative state there who gave birth to a child last month had been sexually assaulted, the nursing home's parent company said.

The move represented an escalation in the case, just one day after the longtime chief executive of the company resigned. The police in Phoenix announced on Friday that they had opened the investigation into the alleged assault.

In a statement, the company that manages the nursing home - Hacienda HealthCare - said police investigators had served a search warrant to obtain the DNA. A spokesman for the company, David Leibowitz, emphasised that Hacienda HealthCare welcomed the action by the police, noting that the company itself had sought to conduct voluntary genetic testing of its staff but that the company's lawyers had concluded that doing so would be illegal.

"Hacienda stands committed to doing everything in our power to bring this police investigation to a quick conclusion," the company statement said. "We will continue to cooperate with Phoenix Police and all other investigative agencies to uncover the facts in this deeply disturbing" situation.

It was not clear how many male employees were tested. Sgt. Tommy Thompson of the Phoenix Police Department declined to comment on the case Tuesday night other than to say, "We still have an ongoing investigation."

In a separate development, the San Carlos Apache Tribe said in a statement obtained on Tuesday by 12 News, a local television station, that the woman at the center of the case is a 29-year-old "enrolled member" who "has been in a persistent vegetative state and coma for over a decade."

Speaking on behalf of the tribe, its chairman, Terry Rambler, said he was "deeply shocked and horrified." Attempts to reach Alex Ritchie, the attorney general for the San Carlos Apache Tribe, were not immediately successful.

"When you have a loved one committed to palliative care, when they are most vulnerable and dependent upon others, you trust their caretakers," Rambler said. "It is my hope that justice will be served."

A lawyer for the woman's family, John Micheaels, said in a statement obtained by The New York Times that the baby was a boy who "has been born into a loving family and will be well cared for."

"The family obviously is outraged, traumatised and in shock by the abuse and neglect of their daughter at Hacienda Healthcare," Micheaels said, adding that they did not wish to make a public statement.

Hacienda HealthCare has been under intense scrutiny since the police announced the investigation into the circumstances surrounding the conception of the boy. The woman has not been publicly identified by the police.

The Arizona Department of Health Services has said it was aware of the allegations and would conduct an inspection of the center, which is about 7 miles south of downtown Phoenix. It specialises in the care of people with intellectual disabilities and has at least 74 patient beds, according to federal records. Records posted to the Medicare website indicate that the nursing home received a "below average" rating from health inspectors in 2017. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services rated its quality of resident care as "much below average."

Episodes in which incapacitated patients are raped and become pregnant are not unprecedented, although they are rare.

In 1996, a woman from Rochester, New York, who had been in a coma for a decade after a car accident, gave birth to a 2-pound boy. When her belly began swelling, workers at the care facility in Brighton, New York, tested her for intestinal blockages, but they later determined through DNA testing that she had been assaulted by a nursing assistant, who was found guilty of rape and imprisoned.

Experts at the time said that was the country's first recorded episode of a woman in a chronic vegetative state giving birth. The case drew additional attention because the woman, whose name was Kathy, was Catholic, and her parents chose to allow the pregnancy to continue and eventually adopted the child. Kathy died before the boy's first birthday.

In 1998, New York state passed "Kathy's Law," which imposed stiffer penalties for healthcare workers found guilty of abusing patients in nursing homes. That same year, a woman in a coma at a home in Massachusetts gave birth to a baby girl prematurely and with severe brain damage. According to a report by The Associated Press at the time, after the police asked for blood samples from male employees, a registered nurse's aide was convicted of rape and sent to prison.