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Hidden cameras

June 1, 2010
by Betty MacLaughlin Frandsen, RN, NHA, MHA, CDONA/LTC, C-NE
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At a glance…

Long-term care facilities that keep the lines of communication open between residents and families and that respect their rights will go far in preventing abuse and other inappropriate actions concerning residents.

Newspaper headlines shocked readers recently by declaring that 14 nursing home workers from one New York facility near Albany were arrested and charged with neglect. Eight others were arrested in a Western New York nursing home. These actions resulted from the use of hidden cameras installed with consent of residents' family members. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo reported conducting a six-week investigation using all necessary tools to watch over the vulnerable who cannot advocate for themselves.


In the Albany area facility, hidden cameras revealed the following:

  • Staff often left residents in the same position for an entire shift, failing to turn and position an immobile resident.

  • Nurses failed to administer medication and treat bed sores.

  • Staff failed to check for incontinence or change undergarments for long periods of time.

  • Staff falsified medical records to conceal this neglect.

  • A physician's assistant created a false record of an annual physical that was never performed.

In all, six licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and seven certified nurse aides (CNAs) were charged with felony first-degree multiple counts of falsifying business records and misdemeanor willful violation of public health law. The physician's assistant was charged with one count.1

The Western New York investigation revealed similar findings:

  • Staff routinely failed to properly transfer a resident in and out of bed. Instead of using a mechanical lift with assist of two caregivers, they put the resident at risk of injury through other methods.

  • One aide failed to provide range of motion therapy.

  • Two LPNs failed to administer insulin, failed to provide skin and wound treatment, and failed to check vital signs.

  • The employees falsified medical records to conceal the neglect and mistreatment.1

Falsifying business records is a Class E felony punishable by up to four years in prison. The other charges are misdemeanors with varying maximum prison terms of up to one year.1

While this “sting” operation may catch many by surprise, use of hidden cameras and similar findings are not new. Consider these other cases:

  • In Texas, first-degree felony abuse charges were filed against a nurses' aide captured by a hidden camera striking a woman to get her out of her wheelchair and then throwing her into bed. The resident, paralyzed from a stroke, also suffered from dementia. When the facility failed to act on complaints from her husband, stating the woman “could not identify her abuser,” he took action and installed the camera.2

  • In Ventura County, California, a family noticed unexplained bruises on their 70-year-old loved one admitted to the facility following a stroke. Family notified administrators, but there was no investigation. The family set up a hidden camera and captured what they could not believe. A CNA was seen slapping the resident, violently bending her fingers, wrists, and neck, and pulling her by her hair. An investigation showed the nursing home knew this was a problem employee. Other families had complained of suspected abuse, and one named the CNA in writing, but she was allowed to continue to work with residents. The family was awarded $7.75 million by a jury after facility owners refused to settle out of court for $500,000.3

  • In an Illinois nursing home, seven patients were admitted who had criminal backgrounds after the facility failed to conduct background checks. Two deaths resulted from neglect, and cameras showed mentally ill patients were out of control and elderly residents lived in fear. Two workers and three patients were arrested, and the administrator's license was suspended.4

In our examples several key things happened:

  • Staff failed to provide care designed to meet the needs of residents.

  • Staff falsely documented that the care was provided.

  • Staff members intentionally abused or neglected residents.

  • Staff failed to report what they saw others do or fail to do.

  • Administration did not adequately investigate family concerns.

In each case, the installation of hidden cameras was the vehicle by which neglect and abuse was substantiated. In most of the examples, family members first tried to work with administration to gain resolution, but when they perceived they were not heard, they resorted to other means.