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Rutchey Held In Cache County Jail Rather Than Hospital, As Jail Faces Nurse Shortage

Katherine Taylor
Utah State University
Heidi Rutchey appeared in court on July 3, 2016, in Logan, Utah.

Heidi Rutchey, a northern Utah woman who was arrested in connection with the death of her two-year-old son more than three years ago, has pleaded guilty, but mentally ill to the charge of child abuse homicide. 

During her case, the defense said Rutchey was never returned to the Utah State Hospital, and was rather held in the Cache County Jail, where there's currently a shortage of nursing staff.

More than three years after her two-year-old son was found dead in her River Heights apartment, Heidi Rutchey has not yet been sentenced. 

When she was taken into custody, Rutchey told officers she had suffocated her son by holding her hand over his mouth and nose. 

Throughout her case, Rutchey’s mental health, both current and at the time of the incident, have presented major questions. During one evaluation before she was found competent, she said she had information about Palestine, and asked that the FBI be called. It took over two years of treatment at the state hospital to restore her to competency.

When she appeared in court on Monday, Rutchey pleaded guilty, but mentally ill to the charge of child abuse homicide, a second degree felony. 

On Monday during the hearing, Rutchey asked to make a call to an air force base, saying, "It could make the whole situation kind of different.”

Judge Thomas Willmore told her that she could not. 

Rutchey claimed that she had never been returned to the Utah State Hospital, as Judge Willmore had ordered at her last court appearance on June 26. Instead, she spent the week at the Cache County Jail. 

Lieutenant Doyle Peck of the Cache County Jail Division said he never received an order to transfer her to the hospital. 

“As far as I’m aware, we did not receive a transportation order to take her back. We were told to actually keep her in our facility until yesterday’s hearing,” he said.

Rutchey also claimed there were no nurses at the Cache County Jail, and that her medicine had been instead administered by deputies. She listed the names of several nurses, and said that they had quit or retired. She claimed that at times, the deputies had gotten her medication wrong. When Judge Willmore asked how they were wrong, or if any of her medications weren’t being provided, Rutchey didn’t know, saying, “I’m on so many, your honor.”

Lt. Peck said there’s currently a shortage of nursing staff at the jail.

“What we have found in our facility is that it’s been difficult to continue to hire medical staff, mainly just for the fact that most people who go into nursing don’t go into nursing to work in a prison or a jail. They go into nursing to work in a hospital,” he said. “So we were finding it difficult to recruit people, to keep people.”

Because of this, he said, the jail is working to move toward contracted care, and has called for proposals from companies. In the meantime, the full-time nursing staff has resigned, leaving the jail with only part-time nurses, with help from Bear River Health Department to fill the gaps, and a doctor who holds a clinic once a week, which they hope to increase to twice a week. Within the next two to three months, he said they expect to have round the clock medical care available. 

Lt. Peck said that though deputies have at times had to do “med pass,” distributing medications to prisoners, it’s very unlikely they could have gotten Rutchey’s medication wrong. 

“We’re working to have pharmaceutical groups help us with med pass, we’re working with the government health department to do med pass. But because our full-time medical staff all left us at once, there have been a couple of times to where deputies have had to give her her medication. Now when I say that, what I mean by that is a doctor has already prescribed the medications she should receive, which is med pass. All the deputies are doing is giving it to her so she can take it.”

He said that despite the jail’s shortage of nursing staff, they will provide the best care possible to Rutchey. 

“If they decide they want us to keep her, we’ll make sure that the doctor is well aware of her and he will take care of her and we’ll make sure we do our absolute best to keep her to a good level of competency, because we don’t want to see that go away,” he said. “The state has spent too much time and money getting her to where she needs to be.”

Judge Willmore did not proceed with sentencing on Monday; Rutchey will stay in the Cache County Jail until she returns to court in August.