Extended interview with the mother of the woman who gave birth at Hacienda HealthCare

This story was supported by the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism's 2022 National Fellowship

On New Year’s Eve 2018, news broke that a woman with profound physical and intellectual disabilities gave birth at a Phoenix institution called Hacienda HealthCare. 

KJZZ’s Amy Silverman recently looked at reports of abuse and neglect of Arizonans with intellectual and developmental disabilities; the series was called UNSAFE and was supported by the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism. As part of that, she spoke with the mother of the woman who gave birth four years ago today at Hacienda HealthCare. Amy Silverman joined The Show to talk more about it.



BRODIE: So how did you come to talk to this woman?

SILVERMAN: Well, when the Hacienda story broke on New Year's Eve 2018, I started reporting on it and one of the first things I did was track down the woman's attorney and ask her if I could speak with the family, along with everyone else in town. Everybody did that. And he said, no, understandably. This, this had just happened, and the family is very, very private, and I just sort of kept at it. I'm not sure anyone was still asking two years later when I asked again, and he went back to her to, to Mildred, the woman's mother. And, and she said no again. And then I went back again. Now I'm quite certain no one else was asking four years later. And this time she said yes. 

BRODIE: What’s happened in the four years since the resident at Hacienda gave birth?

SILVERMAN: Most important, the man who raped her is now in prison. Mildred and her family have settled lawsuits with Hacienda and the state, and Governor Doug Ducey did appoint a task force to look into concerns of abuse and neglect of residents at Hacienda, but also people with intellectual and developmental disabilities across the state. That task force has pretty much wrapped up its work, and it, it really, it depends on who you ask as to whether or not it's done much good.

On a warm fall day nearly four years later, Mildred sits in the conference room of her lawyer’s north Phoenix office. We are using her first name only, to protect her privacy. She wears a blue tee shirt and jeans, her salt and pepper hair held back by a sparkly headband.

Mildred never thought her daughter would be a mother. And then she got a call from an employee at Hacienda.

MILDRED: ‘Oh Mildred, I just wanna let you know, did you know you're a grandma?’I said, What are you talking about? And she said, Yeah, she had a baby boy. And I threw my phone across the room.

SILVERMAN: Mildred’s eyes fill with tears as she talks about her daughter. The girl had her first seizure when she was two weeks old. 

MILDRED: And I didn't know what they were, I didn't know what seizures were because she's the fourth of my children out of seven. I would be going to her, taking her to her appointments and tried to explain to the doctors, nurses what she was doing, turning blue, shaking, her eyes rolling up. So they, they didn't have no idea what I was trying to, to explain to them because, and I was thinking back, maybe if I would've said seizures, you know, they would've known. But back then, I didn't know. … So she couldn't sit up, she couldn't play, she couldn't, you know, she was always in her stroller or we're carrying her around. We would just prop her because she was, you know, she wouldn't be normal physically.

SILVERMAN: When the little girl was 2, doctors sent Mildred several hours from her home on the San Carlos Apache Indian reservation to the Phoenix Indian Hospital. The girl had a seizure in front of a pediatrician. 

MILDRED: I told him, this is what I'm talking about. So that's what, you know, she did in front of him. He told me to get her out, get her out of the stroller, and he ran her to the ER, put her on oxygen, but that's where, you know, our journey started.

SILVERMAN: It took weeks to get the girl’s seizures under control with medication. 

MILDRED: We got sent home and I was having, you know, programs coming out, doing therapy and whatnot with her, teaching me CPR and whatnot to care for her at home. So I kept her home as long as I could, but then she started developing respiratory problems.

SILVERMAN: Particularly in the winter, the girl would get sick. She was back and forth between her home and medical facilities in Phoenix. 

When the girl was two, the doctors convinced Mildred and her husband to put their daughter in a state-funded care facility called Hacienda HealthCare. 

MILDRED: So the doctor told me, talked to me and told me, I think it's better if she's near the facilities instead of flying out all the time. So that's when he put in a referral to social service in San Carlos to have her placed. And it was, it was hard for me and her dad, and I didn't understand it, you know, cause it was all new to me, you know, I didn't know where he was leading to, where she, she would get care and all that. 

Hardest day of my life to let her, to let her stay. 

I was reassured that she'll be taken care of, they'll care for her. And I did say that to them, you know, I cared for her as much as I could at home. So now, you take care of her. 

SILVERMAN: Mildred was happy with her daughter’s care. She kept a close eye on her when she visited, checking for sores, bruises, even ear wax. She sang songs to her in Apache. 

The family requested that their daughter never be left alone with a male caregiver.

When the family visited on Christmas Eve in 2018, Mildred noticed her 29-year-old daughter’s feet were swollen. 

MILDRED: She was, she was OK, she was in a day room. It was me, her dad, her two, two of her brothers and her sister were there. And like I always used to do, you know, like, like I said, you know, we announce ourselves, we're here, even though she was in a day room, you know, it's pretty loud in there, but we're gathered around her bed cuz she was in her bed. And, I would always check her also too, you know, check her like this, her leg and all that, and then when I checked her feet, it was swollen. So I went to go get a nurse and brought her back and I said, ‘I want this checked. I wanna see why her feet is swollen.’ OK, we'll let the next shift know and we'll note it. And that was it.

I called the next day. I said, ‘Was that ever taken care of? Oh, she's scheduled to see a doctor. And that was it. I never got a call back saying why her feet was swollen until the 29th.

SILVERMAN: The 29th. That’s the day Mildred got that phone call. The one telling her she was a grandmother.

MILDRED: I threw my phone across the room.

SILVERMAN: Mildred rushed to Phoenix.

MILDRED: And I really thought and prayed about it, especially how to tell her dad, he was away at work.

I called him, but I waited until he got off work cause he was working in Nevada at that time. So I called him, told him, and he didn't say anything. He just said, ‘OK.’ And hung up. What can you say? So he said he just told his boss that he was gonna go.

SILVERMAN: Mildred’s daughter was recovering in the hospital. So was her grandson. 

At first, Mildred wasn’t sure she even wanted to see the infant. She prayed about it, then went to  the ICU, where the baby was being weaned off his mother’s seizure medications.

MILDRED: He was just laying there all small, facing the other way. We just saw the back of his head. And I saw him, talked to him in Apache, apologized to him, how he came, but I told him that he's ours, he's not going nowhere. 

So later on when he was ready to get discharged, um, the nurse came up and asked,’What is gonna happen with the baby? Is he going to be turned over to the state or, or what.’ Um, you know, they're asking, ‘I wonder what's gonna happen to him.’ And I said, ‘He's going home with us.’ He's mine. This is my flesh and blood. No matter how he came, he's my flesh and blood. We don't do that to our family. So he got discharged and we took him home.  I have to take care of him. So that's when they did an emergency hearing and they gave me custody of him. I got all his records from the hospital. He's part of the San Carlos Apache tribe.

SILVERMAN: Mildred pulls out her phone to show photos of a beautiful, healthy child with big eyes and dark hair. He loves spicy food. He’s always surrounded by family. 

MILDRED: He calls all of us Mama. Me, my older daughter, the aunties. 

SILVERMAN: From his youngest days, Mildred has brought the boy to visit his mother, who now lives in another care facility in Phoenix. He calls her mama, too. 

Earlier this year, at her mother’s request, the young woman was transported to the San Carlos Apache reservation for a visit, in honor of a coming of age ceremony for a young woman in the community. 

MILDRED: So that went through and so they brought her home, then went straight to the ceremony, the old ground and, just for a couple hours I didn't wanna, you know, stress her out or stuff like that, so they brought her back. We gave her a traditional dress for them to put on her so she wore her dress. Just family took pictures of us, you know, there. But she came when it was over though, so she couldn't hear any of the music, but, but she was home with us and we were just all happy, family just gathered around the van and wanted to take a peek at her. And she was kind of, like, dozing off.

SILVERMAN: Mildred’s daughter now lives in a small facility in Phoenix. The family visits whenever they can, though Mildred says she appears to prefer quiet to the chaos of family. 

MILDRED: When we're there, we're loud, so she cringes and you know, like, that kind of look, where, would you guys leave?

SILVERMAN: Mildred bought a large television for her daughter and asked staff to play Apache music for her on YouTube. 

MILDRED: I just want them to prolong her life, take care of her, how I would take care of her.

SILVERMAN: She doesn’t just worry about her daughter. Mildred thinks about the day her grandson finds out about his father – and the circumstances of his birth. 

MILDRED: Mhm-hm. Every day, every morning, every time I look at him.

BRODIE: That was KJZZ’s Amy Silverman reporting. And Amy is back with me. So, you spent a good amount of time with the resident’s mother. Did you get to spend any time with the resident herself?

SILVERMAN: Almost. I did ask Mildred if it would be possible to meet her daughter and she and the attorney agreed. And we made arrangements to meet later that day at the woman's care facility and I made it to the front door where I was met by two armed guards who would not let me in. The state runs the facility. They called state officials who said that I couldn't, couldn't go in even though the lawyer and Mildred had both approved it. So I watched Mildred and her family walk in and I didn't get to follow them.

BRODIE: Alright, that is KJZZ's Amy Silverman. Amy, thank you.

SILVERMAN: Thank you, Mark.

[This article was originally published by KJZZ.]

Did you like this story? Your support means a lot! Your tax-deductible donation will advance our mission of supporting journalism as a catalyst for change.