TAMPA — Leaders of the James A. Haley VA Medical Center Thursday removed a camera disguised as a smoke detector from a brain-damaged veteran's hospital room.
The Department of Veterans Affairs hospital defended the use of the covert camera and offered no reason for its unexpected removal.
The decision came a day after Haley officials admitted they were recording the video feed from veteran Joseph Carnegie's room after initially denying that in interviews with the Tampa Bay Times.
"The use of video cameras has become widespread throughout the medical community in recent years," Haley spokeswoman Carolyn Clark said in a written statement. "These devices enable health care providers to monitor patients without having a nurse sit in a room around the clock."
So far, Haley officials have not said why they chose this particular camera to place in the room. Vonnic, which makes it, calls the camera a "C401W Smoke Detector Covert Camera" on its website.
In place of the camera, Haley will assign a staff member to monitor Carnegie, 80, who lives near Atlanta, around the clock.
Carnegie's daughter, Natalie, said she was happy the camera is gone.
But she said her fight will continue to bring accountability to Haley's leaders after a serious breach of patient privacy.
Haley's deputy director, Roy Hawkins Jr., initially confirmed to the Times on July 9 that the camera was installed without telling family members. Carnegie's relatives discovered it when they took a close look at an odd looking smoke alarm.
Hawkins later denied making that statement, insisting the family was told about it upon installation.
VA officials in Washington, D.C., have so far declined to offer any information about whether national agency policy allows the use of hidden camera in patient rooms, as Haley's deputy director has said.
Haley officials have also declined to answer numerous questions about the camera. U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, vice chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, expressed dismay.
"Our veterans must receive the most effective care possible while at the same time protecting their privacy and personal rights," Bilirakis said.
"We must hold the VA accountable for its actions."