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Punishing Surveillance

September 9, 2008
by Kevin Kolus
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From The News Journal in Delaware, here’s a disturbing story of nursing home abuse—one that raises the issue of state-run healthcare facilities marginalizing serious acts of cruelty.

Two women suspected their 75-year-old aunt, a patient at the long-term care facility Emily P. Bissell Hospital in Wilmington, Delaware, was regularly being abused by staff. For months, the family sent e-mails to facility officials informing them of their worries. Eventually, the nieces took it upon themselves to investigate their fear by installing a $600 motion-activated “nanny cam” in their aunt’s room at the facility.

Here’s what The News Journal reported:

In June, the nieces hand-delivered a DVD of several incidents [of physical and mental abuse] to the state's Division of Long Term Care Residents Protection … But neither Long Term Care [Residents Protection] nor Bissell officials took action until last week, after The News Journal began investigating the family's claims….

What did this now alerted facility’s administration do? They confiscated the camera and told the resident’s family their visitation rights had been halted.

Sure, there were disciplinary actions taken as three employees were “dismissed,” and two were placed on unpaid suspension. But for the administration to demonstrate such hostility toward the family for recording their loved one being treated worse than a prisoner is just another terrifying instance of how some state-run facilities punish families who seek the truth.

The following is an example of the recorded cases of abuse toward the resident that were shown to The News Journal staff:


Kevin Kolus

Kevin Kolus



Kevin Kolus wrote for Long-Term Living when he was an editor. He left the brand in 2012...



If we listen to our families and act to protect all parties...abuse may happen...but families will not need to go to such extremes. This family only resorted to this tact because they were not being listened to. When are we going to figure it out...we have got to listen to our consumer/families and respond. We can make mistakes...families know we are human. They just want us to listen, respond and resolve problem. It is not rocket science.

I can see why the facility was upset about the 'granny cam' but their behavior afterwards was terrible. The family felt they needed evidence, and they got it. Was the facility listening to this family beforehand? What do facility's think concerned families are supposed to do if they suspect abuse...do nothing?

When it comes to installing video equipment in your room at a state-run facility, I personally don't see it any different than using a cell phone to document police brutality. The state-run facility puts the resident in the position of having to deal with abuse with little to no means of fighting back, especially if the person has dementia. In the original article (linked to within the first sentence of my blog), you'll read that the family had been sending e-mails for months about their concerns. Even when the video evidence was produced, nothing happened—that is until the local newspaper started investigating.

In a country where we rely on government for far too much, you'd expect that at least the last bastion of personal freedom—that of not being touched without consent—would be defended.


Great point. Open lines of communication are necessary everywhere in life, espeically in healthcare. It may not be rocket science to well-reasoned, good-hearted individuals, but for some people, it's difficult to wrap their minds around.