Case study shows how video helps avoid lawsuit

This case study involving covert video surveillance (CVS) is provided by Andrew R. Rogoff, JD, a partner in the Philadelphia office of the law firm Pepper Hamilton, and DaQuana L. Carter, JD, an associate with the firm. They say the case illustrates how the technique can be beneficial to health care organizations. The names have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.

Patrick Sullivan watched his father's health rapidly deteriorate after strokes severely diminished his mental and physical capacities. Unable to provide adequate care for him, Patrick and his sister chose to place their father in a nursing home. Almost immediately the family began noticing bumps and bruises on his body.

Patrick suspected the injuries were a result of abuse by a nurse or other employee. He asked his father, but in his confused state, he couldn't explain his injuries.

Patrick voiced his concerns to the nursing home's administrators, who jumped to the defense of their employees and assured him that they were not to blame. But after a few more weeks and no improvement in his father's condition, Patrick met with nursing home officials again and demanded an investigation. Although reluctant to pursue it at first, the owner of the nursing home did want to establish the innocence of his staff, and Patrick's persistence left him little choice but to agree when the son offered, at his own expense, to install a covert video camera that would monitor all the activities in his father's room. First, the owner needed the consent of his father, who was the sole occupant of a private room in the nursing home. Meanwhile, nursing home administrators posted signs alerting employees and visitors to the possibility of video surveillance within the facility.

Video reveals true source of injuries

After the system was installed, Patrick waited a week and then viewed the tape. What he saw surprised him. The video clearly showed that the father, a restless and fitful sleeper, was repeatedly banging his arms and legs against the bed rail. Patrick concluded that his father's bruises were simply the result of his agitated sleeping patterns. Patrick and the home's owner were relieved to know that his father was not the victim of abuse, and steps were taken to prevent him from injuring himself further while sleeping.

In this case, Rogoff explains, video surveillance was able to absolve the nursing home and its resident's primary caregivers of any wrongdoing.

"In other cases, the use of video cameras in residents' rooms has been shown to discourage abuse and neglect, simply because employees know they are being watched," Rogoff says. "Under any circumstance, however, the use of video surveillance can be a positive step in reducing the potential for abuse of the elderly."