A jury in Oklahoma City recently ordered Quail Creek Nursing and Rehabilitation to pay $1.2 million to the family of an abused resident. The abuse was caught on tape after the family suspected theft was occurring and planted a hidden camera. Nursing home abuse lawyers at Pintas & Mullins discuss this case and the legality of hidden cameras in nursing homes.
The resident at the center of this case, Eryetha Mayberry, was 96 years old when she died in July 2012. We reported on this case in March 2013, nearly one year after her death. The lawsuit was brought by Mayberry's daughters, who planted the hidden camera in her room in attempt to catch the people stealing her belongings.
The camera footage actually caught something much more disturbing: their mother, who suffered from dementia, was systemically abuse at Quail Creek Nursing Home by its staff. Two employees in particular - Caroline Kaseke and Lucy Waithira Gakunga, who have since been fired - repeatedly shoved Mayberry into her bed, pressed on her chest to prevent her from breathing, slapped her, and stuffed latex gloves into her mouth. Gakunga and Kaseke are now facing criminal charges.
The jury in this case found Quail Creek guilty of negligence and abuse, and the federal judge announced the $1.2 million verdict on mid-February of this year. Oklahoma routinely ranks among the worst in the country for nursing home quality. Inadequate staffing is an overwhelming problem in the state, which contributes to abuse and neglect of all forms.
The camera installed in Mayberry's room was motion-activated and resembled an alarm clock. Due in no small part to Mayberry's case, Oklahoma recently became the third state to explicitly allow residents of nursing homes to have surveillance cameras in their rooms. The other two states that allow cameras are New Mexico and Texas.
Some government agencies also use hidden cameras to document abuse and neglect in nursing homes. The New York state attorney has relied on hidden cameras for years to investigate and prove patient abuse. In June 2014 the Ohio attorney general announced that his office, with families' permission, was placing cameras in nursing home resident's rooms in numerous facilities. This resulted in at least one Ohio nursing home shutting down permanently.
A simple Google search will pull up similar acts of nursing home abuse caught on tape in various states. Hidden cameras are usually planted by concerned families at the end of their rope, frustrated by the lack of action by state health departments or lack of communication from the nursing home staff.
Of course, there are various legal and ethical questions that come up when planting a hidden camera in a resident's bedroom. These questions are most pronounced if the resident suffers severe dementia or other cognitive issues that make it difficult or impossible to obtain their consent, or if they have roommates that are not told. Most state laws hold that roommates have the right to refuse to be monitored and some have specific rules governing these types of cameras. In Maryland, for example, cameras must be in a fixed position directed only at the intended resident.