The people running the James A. Haley VA Medical Center have finally overplayed their hand. The U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee is investigating why Haley installed a videocamera disguised as a smoke detector in the room of a brain-damaged veteran, and why hospital officials gave conflicting accounts of how the snooping took place. This effort to hold Haley responsible is long overdue.
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Pensacola, said he was outraged by a Tampa Bay Times report that Haley installed a camera disguised as a smoke detector in 80-year-old Joseph Carnegie's hospital room. Miller, who chairs the Veterans Affairs Committee, said the move violated the "sacred trust" that patients and their families deserve at the nation's veterans hospitals. He also singled out the Veterans Affairs Department for its lack of candor and sense of responsibility. These are familiar problems within the VA — and notably at Haley — that Miller's panel needs to explore. Sen. Bill Nelson followed suit this week in calling for a probe by the VA's inspector general.
The hospital has offered so many conflicting stories it has no credibility. It falls to Miller and Nelson to get some answers. Why did Haley install the camera in the first place, and under what authority? If the procedure was legitimate, why use a camera disguised as a smoke detector? Does Haley use any other devices to violate patient privacy? Where is the tape of Carnegie? Was anyone disciplined?
Hospital director Kathleen Fogarty is responsible for this culture and should answer for the indifference to public concerns.
Congress should also look beyond this event. Haley has been less than forthcoming about its finances and the availability of services. Veterans and their families deserve better.