Secret Surveillance Approved Inside Patient's Room

By Carlton Purvis, Published Mar 26, 2014, 12:00am EDT

The family of an elderly man found a hidden camera in his hospital room. Already frustrated from what they felt was substandard care, they were outraged when they noticed the camera in a fake smoke detector mounted to the ceiling.

It prompted both a VA investigation and the creation of a bill aimed at restricting cameras in veteran’s hospital rooms. The investigation uncovered emails and hospital records that show the hospital was concerned that his family members interfering with his care.

In this post we review the investigation and its impact on the use of surveillance cameras.

Background

In 2012, the family of then 80-year-old Joseph Carnegie, found a hidden camera in his room at James A. Haley VA Medical Center. Carnegie’s son-in-law was the first to spot the camera. The family suspected the hospital installed the camera because they were considering suing for negligence. Here's why:

After going into a hospital for a blood sugar-related problem while on vacation he developed an IV infection. After improving and transferring to a VA hospital closer to home, the family says he suffered brain damage after food build-up from a feeding tube cut off his airway causing brain damage presumably from lack of oxygen.

The family threatened to sue the hospital, and shortly after the camera went up.

The VA hospital says it installed the camera to be able to monitor Carneigie’s health at all times and emails suggest the reason was to find out who, if anyone, was interfering with doctor’s orders. Someone was stealing medical equipment changing settings or tampering with his feeding tube.

The hospital wanted to know “who or what was ... changing the incline position of the patient’s bed, changing the rate of infusion on the patient’s feeding and medication pumps, and/or repositioning the patient.”

The last straw for them came after a June 8 incident:


The Camera

The camera purchased was a Vonnic C410W.

Hospital administrators originally said it was not meant to be a hidden camera “though they could not explain why they selected this particular model,” reported the Tampa Bay Times. The camera was live-monitored and recorded for 43 days before it was removed.

Emails examined as part of a VA investigation would later show the hospital didn’t want the family to know.

VA Findings

After the media caught on to the story, the VA Office of Inspector General initiated an investigation. It that found in the patient's medical record were reports of “supplies missing and settings changed to tube feeding, bed settings, suctioning/oxygen settings which they believe were done by the family.”

The VA ultimately determined that the hidden camera was justified and that patient consent was not needed because it was being used for treatment. It also determined that overall Carnegie received high-quality care from the hospital staff.

Other Findings

At the time of the investigation, no other VA hospitals reported using covert cameras, but seven admitted to using them in the past, but in conjunction with law enforcement investigations.

The investigation also revealed the video practices of VA hospitals. For example, VA hospitals recommend and are sometimes required to have cameras in certain areas, like entrances and exits, pharmacy areas and places where controlled substances are stored. In almost all cases there was signage that indicated cameras were present.

It surveyed 141 VA hospitals and found that 75 percent of them have cameras in clinical areas as well that are often monitored by medical staff. Ten centers reported recording both video and audio. These included jail facilities, mental health seclusion rooms and sleep labs.

Legislation

The media attention also led to the drafting of legislation restricting the use of camera’s in VA hospital rooms. The legislation was drawn up around the same time the OIG released this report. In the wake up the report, which showed the hospitals concerns about the family, it never made it past committee.

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