Punishing Surveillance

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:

One series of videos recorded July 8 shows an angry female Bissell staffer. The aunt says she wants her head elevated on another pillow.

The female attendant warns the aunt to calm down and quit acting out. It’s unclear why. “You don’t like it when they give you shots, but you can’t be acting like that,” the staffer says.

The aunt pleads for assistance: “Please help me. Please help me.” The staffer replies: “You’re gonna stay like that, as far as I’m concerned.”

Seconds later, the staffer yells for the aunt to “stop!” leans over the bed and points her finger inches from the aunt’s nose. The staffer walks to the other side of the bed as the aunt pleads for help.

“Stop it right now,” the nurse responds. “Because we’re gonna call the cops on you. We’re gonna put you in the nuthouse.”

The staffer then grabs the aunt’s left wrist and uses it to strike the aunt in the face.

“That’s what we’re gonna do,” the nurse says before walking back to the other side of the bed, where she strikes at the aunt’s hands and face before pulling the call button from the wall, summoning assistance.

Three staffers enter the room. One asks the aunt: “What are you doing choking people?”

The nurse then tells her colleagues that the aunt punched, kicked, and choked her.

Now, if this hasn’t upset you enough, read the following response from Dr. Jaime “Gus” Rivera, director of the Division of Public Health:

“We take these allegations very seriously,” Rivera said. “However, the tape did show some instances of very good care.”

Wait, I thought it’s the duty of any state-run facility to ensure that zero tolerance toward violence is enforced? In fact, the facility’s mission statement is: “It is the mission of Emily P. Bissell Hospital, a nursing home, to provide quality care and support to our residents. Our service motto is: We treat one another with care.”

Not only has Bissell’s administration failed to live up to its mission of delivering a standard of care that excludes violent abuse, but also apparent is Rivera marginalizing the events by telling the public this issue is overlooking the “good care” the facility delivers.

That is not a serious enough reaction. Of course nursing homes deliver “good care,” otherwise they would not have any residents. When abuse is recorded and reported, it is the duty of the state-run facility to take action and protect those it claims to serve, and do so without making light of staff-inflicted cruelty.

Otherwise, Bissell may need to change its service motto to: We treat one another with care—when we’re being watched.

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