TAMPA — The deputy director of the Department of Veterans Affairs on Thursday defended the use of a camera disguised as a smoke detector in a veteran's room at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa.
W. Scott Gould, who is the agency's No. 2 behind VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, testified at a hearing of the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee in Washington, D.C., that the camera was the best way to closely monitor the health of a comatose patient, veteran Joseph Carnegie.
"We do not believe the camera was hidden," Gould told the committee after its chairman, Rep. Jeff Miller, asked him for an explanation about the camera's use. "We believe the family was informed."
Miller, R-Pensacola, appeared exasperated by the response and said he had been told by Haley officials that the hospital did not get any consent from Carnegie's family before the camera was placed in the room.
"VA maintains that they don't need the family's consent," Miller told the Tampa Bay Times after the hearing. "The questions I have are, if this camera was for patient safety, why not seek consent?"
Miller asked why the camera was removed if it had been put there legitimately.
Gould began explaining that Carnegie had transferred out of Haley. But Miller cut him off, noting that the camera was removed long before Carnegie moved to another VA hospital.
"This shows that there is no accountability at the VA," Mike Coleman, Carnegie's son-in-law, said in a telephone interview after the hearing.
Miller said he was especially concerned that VA policy allowed camera use in rooms without the consent of patients or their families.
"We will agree to disagree," Miller said. "I guess common sense where I come from would say just put a camera … where people can see it. For some reason, somebody made the decision to hide the camera."
Miller said afterward that Gould's ability to give a full accounting of the incident may have been compromised by his own employees in Tampa.
"I think it's very difficult for Mr. Gould to answer specifics when it appears that the leadership at Haley are not providing all the necessary facts to VA's central office," he said.
The committee was holding a hearing on the VA's performance and accountability. Miller's questions about the camera had not been on the hearing agenda.
William R. Levesque can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3432.