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Hidden Cams In NY Nursing Homes Benefit Prosecutors

Hidden surveillance cameras recorded critical evidence for charges against two nursing homes and their employees, according to a statement from Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's office.

K.C. Jones

January 9, 2006

4 Min Read

In a first-of-a-kind probe, New York's leading prosecutor relied on stealthy surveillance technology to investigate whether federal and state tax dollars have been funding nursing home neglect or abuse.

Hidden surveillance cameras recorded critical evidence for charges against two nursing homes and their employees, according to a statement from Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's office. A spokesman hinted that cameras could continue to be used for those purposes and a written statement indicated that the investigations are part of broader, statewide efforts to fight neglect and abuse of the elderly and infirm.

"The residents of our state's nursing homes are among our most vulnerable citizens," Spitzer said in the statement. "My office is committed to doing all it can to protect these individuals, who are sometimes without friends and family to protect their interests.

The New York State Attorney General's office has used surveillance for organized crime, but its investigators may be ahead of the curve when it comes to using cameras to prosecute crimes at nursing homes.

Nursing home industry experts and state lawmakers across the country are debating the use of surveillance cameras. Critics argue that cameras in the workplace can violate civil liberties and constitute an invasion of privacy. Proponents herald the potential for security and crime-fighting.

Meanwhile, Spitzer -- who has aggressively investigated and prosecuted crimes over the Internet and through the use of other technology -- announced last week that his office employed the devices before leveling charges against 19 employees at two nursing homes.

New York state allows wiretapping and recording if one party involved in the conversation or interaction consents. If it's not possible to gain consent, law enforcement investigators can obtain court authorization for wiretapping

"We have a long record and well known reputation in surveillance, largely stemming from the work in our organized crime task force," Paul Larrabee, a spokesman for the Attorney General's office said in an interview Monday. "This is the first time we believe it has been used in the context of a Medicaid fraud case, in which a surveillance camera recorded information that would be used in trial against criminal defendants in Medicaid fraud case." At Jennifer Matthew Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Rochester, a family permitted the state's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit to install a hidden camera and secretly record staff interacting with a bedridden 70-yar-old suffering from dementia and diabetes, among other ailments. According to a court complaint, the camera recorded hundreds of instances of neglect and inadequate care, while providing proof that staff routinely falsified medical records.

Calls to Jennifer Matthew's attorney, Tom Smith, were not returned Monday.

The court complaint states that the man, who is unable to communicate and needs a feeding tube, was not sufficiently fed, given water or treated for pneumonia prevention. The man was also left in the same position for 76 hours straight, putting him at risk for dangerous, and sometimes, fatal bedsores, according to Spitzer's office.

Court records described the patient's family members as "attentive," unlike other families that can't or don't visit. Larrabee said the patient, referred to as "Patient A" in court records, was not conscious, was denied proper medication and left in his own waste.

The state charges that the neglect occurred, despite repeated warnings and citations from the Department of Health, along with pledges to adopt improvement plans.

In the recent state actions against Jennifer Matthew, prosecutors allege that employees falsified records more than 300 times in 39 days to make it appear that proper care had been given to the monitored patient while the camera was running.

Fourteen current and former employees, including owner Anthony Salerno and his consulting company Healthcare Associates, have been charged in connection with the neglect and falsification charges. Eight employees have pleaded guilty and are cooperating with investigators. The state's list of charges range from civil to criminal, claiming violations of criminal, business, social service and health laws.

Spitzer's office reported that a second hidden camera also documented evidence in neglect, endangerment and records falsification charges leveled at five employees of another nursing home, Northwoods, outside of Syracuse.

Northwoods' representatives issued a statement to local media. They declined to comment on the charges, praised their employees and said they have pleaded not guilty.

There are scores of other nursing homes throughout New York state that have received warnings on Department of Health surveys and orders to improve care. Larrabee would not rule out surveillance of other homes.

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