TAMPA — An investigation by the Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general has exonerated officials of the James A. Haley VA Medical Center for their decision to install a camera disguised as a smoke detector in a patient's room last year.
A report by the VA's Office of Inspector General released Thursday said the camera's use was "reasonable" because officials at the Tampa hospital thought the family might be interfering with nursing care provided to brain-damaged veteran James Carnegie, 81.
Carnegie's family members said they never interfered with his care. Hospital officials told the Tampa Bay Times last year that they did not suspect the family of any wrongdoing.
"We found no evidence that (the camera) was installed to embarrass the patient or his family, for voyeuristic reasons, to harass the patient or his family ... to deprive the patient or his family of legal rights or for any other inappropriate purposes," the IG said.
The report said the camera, which was installed in June 2012, was against the wishes of the family. It noted they knew about the camera before it was turned on. The family said that is untrue.
After the release of the report, U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican who is chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said he had introduced legislation barring the use of hidden cameras in a patient's room without family consent.
"This type of behavior is as bizarre as it is outrageous," Miller said. "To think that some VA employees actually thought it a good idea to covertly record a patient with a video camera disguised as a smoke detector really just boggles the mind."
Haley officials declined to comment about the IG report.
Carnegie's daughter, Natalie Carnegie of Atlanta, said she was outraged the report cleared Haley leadership.
"I'm very upset," she said. "I would really, really like to know what other people would want a hidden camera placed in their hospital room."
The report said the inspector general conducted a national survey and found that no hidden cameras were currently being used by 178 VA medical centers or their satellite offices nationally. Only seven facilities said they had previously used hidden cameras.
"All instances identified contained a law enforcement component and/or involved suspected criminal activity," the report said.
Medical staff said they suspected the family of doing things such as changing the reclining position of the patient's bed, repositioning the patient without being told to do so by nurses and changing settings on feeding and medication pumps. The family denied the allegations.
According to the IG report, a nurse manager said in a memo, "The staff believes the family is deliberately creating small sabotage situations so they can document incompetent care."
But Haley's police chief, who is not identified in the report, told hospital officials, "I disagree with this option (as) it will give the impression of concealment/covert recording which has other legal consequences."