Saturday, November 18, 2017
Military News

Family discovers 'covert camera' in Haley VA patient's room

RECOMMENDED READING


TAMPA — Joseph Carnegie's son-in-law last month noticed an odd-looking smoke detector on the ceiling of the severely brain-damaged 80-year-old's private room at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center.

It wasn't there the day before.

The son-in-law, Mike Coleman, took a closer look that day, June 15. He thought he could see a tiny camera lens inside. His wife, Natalie Carnegie, asked a nurse, who she said assured her it was just a new smoke alarm.

In fact, it was a camera.

Officials of the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital confirmed to the Tampa Bay Times that they ordered the installation of a small camera in Carnegie's room without his family's consent. They say it is medically necessary to monitor Carnegie's fragile health 24 hours a day.

Haley administrators deny it is a hidden camera, though they could not explain why they selected this particular model. The camera's manufacturer, Vonnic, describes it like this on its website: "C401W Smoke Detector Covert Camera."

Carnegie's daughter, Natalie, 42, said it was installed without the family's knowledge after it became clear to Haley the family might sue the VA for negligence. They say poor care left the Air Force veteran brain-damaged and unable to communicate.

Roy Hawkins Jr., Haley's deputy administrator, said Haley officials knew of the litigation threat, but said the camera is simply to monitor patient health, much like a heart monitor or other technology.

In an interview last week, Hawkins said a VA facility can put a camera in the hospital room of any veteran without his or her consent or notice, and that it poses no privacy issues.

A VA spokesman in Washington, D.C., did not return a call asking if this was VA policy.

"It was for patient safety," Hawkins said. "We were interested in monitoring his care more closely and elected to use technology to assist us in doing that as with any other patient."

Hawkins, who said the use of room cameras is routine, said the camera will remain even though Carnegie's family objects.

On Friday, he acknowledged the camera was installed without their knowledge.

"They feel that because it was not communicated with them, it perhaps means it was done in secret," Hawkins said. "It wasn't. We do not usually notify a family when we install a camera."

In a second interview Monday, Hawkins reversed himself, saying the family had been told before the camera was installed.

"I know that my father would not want that camera in his face," said Natalie Carnegie. "Everybody is watching him. They have robbed a veteran of every ounce of dignity. They are taking advantage of his vulnerability."

Veteran advocates said they are puzzled by the camera's use.

"The invasion of privacy is stark," said Gordon Erspamer, a San Francisco lawyer who has represented veterans groups in VA litigation. "This is a lot different than a heart monitor. Give me a break."

Joe Davis, a spokesman for Veterans of Foreign Wars, said he could see where a camera could be a useful to doctors and nurses. But hidden cameras, he said, should always be out of bounds.

"If you're going to install a camera, then install a camera," Davis said. "Why hide it in a fake smoke detector? It implies Big Brother."

Carnegie, a retired construction foreman, lives near Atlanta. Last summer, he was on vacation in South Florida when he took ill with high-blood sugar and went to a VA hospital. Carnegie soon got a severe infection from an IV.

But Carnegie soon improved, his family said, and he transferred to Haley in August for more care and to be closer to home.

It was in August, Natalie Carnegie said, when Haley personnel failed to notice that mucus and material from a feeding tube had accumulated in his throat. She said her father lay flat on his back, which allowed the material to collect and cut off air. He went into cardiac arrest and suffered severe brain damage.

The family blames the hospital, saying a nurse told supervisors she had too many patients to adequately monitor Carnegie. Haley officials say staffing issues played no part in the episode.

Dr. Edward Cutolo, Haley's chief of staff, said the reason for the cardiac arrest may never be known, but said the collection of mucus is one possibility.

"It did occur at our facility, on our watch, and we take responsibility . . . and apologized to the family," he said. "I have personally and so has (Kathleen Fogarty, Haley's director). It's not something we wanted to happen."

Hawkins said the camera was medically necessary to monitor Carnegie, but he also acknowledged the decision to use it came after repeated family complaints about Carnegie's care.

Much about the camera is disputed.

Natalie Carnegie and her husband say sympathetic nurses have told her the camera was ordered by Fogarty. This could not be confirmed, though Cutolo said "senior leadership" was involved.

The Carnegies said they have also been told the camera was recording images.

Hawkins said that is untrue, noting the camera image (without audio) is watched live only by medical personnel in a nearby room, where telemetry from other devices is displayed.

Haley could not say how many of these cameras are in use, though officials say no others are installed in the wing of the fourth floor where Carnegie is located.

Other non-VA hospitals do occasionally use cameras to monitor patients, according to those in the industry.

John Dunn, a spokesman for Tampa General Hospital, said his hospital uses cameras in rooms in limited circumstances, such as when a patient is a suicide risk.

He said consent is generally not required, but TGH patients are told about the cameras.

The Carnegie family is upset by one other thing.

VA police were called to Carnegie's room last month when the family tried to take a picture of his daughter, Pamela Carnegie-Lightbourne, with her father.

The hospital explained the family was told its rules prohibited cameras on the premises.

William R. Levesque can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3432.

 
Comments
Cyber firm accesses CentCom cloud information, gives command low security score

Cyber firm accesses CentCom cloud information, gives command low security score

Every day, military and civilian personnel stationed at the MacDill Air Force Base headquarters of U.S. Central Command use the Internet to reach out to foreign audiences in an effort to combat Islamic State propaganda.To help measure the success of ...
Published: 11/17/17
VA’s quiet plan to widen private care with TRICARE stirs concern

VA’s quiet plan to widen private care with TRICARE stirs concern

WASHINGTON — As part of its effort to expand private health care, the Department of Veterans Affairs has been developing plans to merge its health system with the Pentagon’s, a cost-saving measure that veterans groups say could threaten the viability...
Published: 11/17/17
Howard Altman: Missing records confound veterans on base exchange website

Howard Altman: Missing records confound veterans on base exchange website

In the more than three decades that I have been toiling at various paragraph factories, few stories have elicited as much response as the one I wrote about the new program to allow all honorably discharged veterans to shop at military base exchanges ...
Published: 11/17/17
She was an artist who answered a Craigslist ad. Next thing she knew she was best friends with a 93-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor

She was an artist who answered a Craigslist ad. Next thing she knew she was best friends with a 93-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor

University of Miami architecture student Emi Kopke still cannot believe her luck. She answered a Craiglist ad asking for an artist to do hand drawings for a special project. The self-taught artist sent in 15 of her hand drawings — including some of b...
Published: 11/11/17
As fewer serve, burden of war falls heavier on families with tradition of service

As fewer serve, burden of war falls heavier on families with tradition of service

When Lauren Price’s youngest son went off to fight in Iraq in 2008, she handed him a going-away present few parents could offer."I gave him my Iraqi cell phone," said Price, 52, a Navy veteran from New Port Richey who served in the same region of Ira...
Published: 11/10/17
Howard Altman: Army settles flap over who will wear the Green Beret

Howard Altman: Army settles flap over who will wear the Green Beret

I have a hard time picturing Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, a no-nonsense guy with plenty on his plate, taking time out of his busy day sorting through color swatches.But thanks to one of two recent victories in the battle for Army tradition, ...
Published: 11/09/17
Updated: 11/10/17

Target of racist graffiti wrote it, Air Force Academy says

The discovery of racist graffiti galvanized the Air Force Academy in September, and the superintendent of the Colorado campus turned that into a teaching moment with a speech about diversity and tolerance that found more than a million viewers on the...
Published: 11/08/17
Online expansion opens military exchange to another 240,000 shoppers in Tampa Bay area

Online expansion opens military exchange to another 240,000 shoppers in Tampa Bay area

TAMPA — Military exchanges like the one at MacDill Air Force Base have long offered big savings to active-duty troops, military retirees and their families.Starting Saturday, Veterans Day, deals like 25 percent off on watches, 30 percent off smokers ...
Published: 11/06/17
Updated: 11/10/17
Bowe Bergdahl, the former hostage who pleaded guilty to desertion, avoids prison

Bowe Bergdahl, the former hostage who pleaded guilty to desertion, avoids prison

FORT BRAGG, N.C. — Bowe Bergdahl, the Army sergeant who walked off his post in Afghanistan and triggered a search that wounded some of his comrades, will serve no prison time, a military judge ruled Friday at the end of the politically divisive case...
Updated one month ago
Howard Altman: Coast Guard to get special Veterans Day recognition

Howard Altman: Coast Guard to get special Veterans Day recognition

On an average day, the U.S. Coast Guard conducts 45 search and rescue missions, saving 10 lives and more than $1.2 million in property.The agency also seizes 874 pounds of cocaine and 214 pounds of marijuana, interdicts 17 illegal migrants and conduc...
Published: 11/02/17
Updated: 11/03/17