TAMPA — Officials at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center insist they told the family of a severely brain-damaged veteran about a camera disguised as a smoke detector before installing it in his hospital room.
Hospital officials told the Tampa Bay Times and another media outlet that one of the man's relatives even signed a release acknowledging the unusual camera.
But Haley's own records appear to show the hospital's defense is simply untrue.
An internal "contact report" by an assistant nurse manager involved in Joseph Carnegie's care said angry family members approached hospital staff complaining about the camera after discovering it themselves.
The report by a supervisory nurse shows they were told nothing confirming its installation or use.
"Family upset and requesting information about 'new device' on ceiling," said a June 13 report by the assistant nurse manager. "Nurse informed family members that she was not aware of situation" and that the family "should speak to management about situation in morning."
A signed release as described by officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital does not appear to exist, documents and interviews show.
"They're losing their minds," Carnegie's daughter, Natalie, said Friday. "They've been lying about everything involving the hidden camera ever since they got caught doing it. Lies again and again and again."
Haley officials, still defending the device and saying the use of cameras is common in health care, ordered the camera removed a week ago after reports by the Times.
Haley said that the camera was the only one of its kind in use there and that it would not be utilized again.
Natalie Carnegie said the camera appeared after the family threatened litigation against Haley over the medical care Carnegie had received.
Carnegie, 80, of Atlanta is a retired Korean War-era Air Force veteran who was being treated for an infection when he had a heart attack a year ago that severely damaged his brain, leaving him unable to communicate.
The. House Veterans Affairs Committee is investigating Haley's use of the smoke alarm camera, and Sen. Bill Nelson has asked the VA's inspector general to open a second inquiry.
The camera is made by a company called Vonnic, which markets the device as a "smoke detector covert camera."
Haley officials have provided an inconsistent and shifting series of statements since the camera's use was first reported by the Times on July 10.
Haley's deputy director, Roy Hawkins Jr., initially said in an interview the Carnegie family had not been told about the camera beforehand. He later reversed himself and said he had never made such a statement.
The hospital did acknowledge keeping the camera in the room for six weeks despite the family's objection to it.
In a second interview recorded by the Times with the VA's consent, Hawkins said the hospital was not recording the video feed from the camera.
This proved to be untrue. Hawkins, the VA said, made a mistake, not knowing the camera was capable of recording.
Then hospital officials told a Fort Myers television reporter that the Carnegies signed a release acknowledging the camera had been installed.
The Times requested a copy of that document.
Haley released two "contact reports" to the Times with the names of hospital staff redacted. "Yes, the family was aware and attached is the signed release," Haley spokeswoman Carolyn Clark said in an email providing the reports.
But the forms are not signed releases at all. And they clearly contradict the heart of Haley's defense that the family knew about the camera before its installation.
The June 13 report by an unidentified supervisory nurse indicates she quickly called her boss when the Carnegies first complained about the camera.
Two days later, a second report shows, three Haley staff members met with Natalie Carnegie and her husband, Michael Coleman. Again, the names of staff are redacted.
But the Carnegies said this meeting involved the assistant nurse manager, her boss and a third nurse working as an assistant manager in acute care.
The second report — it is unclear if it was written by the same nurse as the earlier report — said the Carnegie family "vocalized their discontent with installation of a video monitor in their father's room without their consent."
The report continued, "It was explained that the camera was deemed appropriate to more closely monitor their father's care. Both family members were shown the area where the video monitor was to be viewed. Family informed this writer that they would be contacting a lawyer as they felt the monitoring was unlawful without their consent."
The VA did not respond to questions about these documents, though in a statement released Friday the hospital continued to defend the smoke alarm camera and said the use of cameras by hospitals is common.
"Delivering high quality, compassionate care to nearly 90,000 veterans remains a top priority" for Haley and "veterans should be confident in the care they receive at Tampa," the statement said.
William R. Levesque can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3432.