Hidden cameras are playing an important role in the investigation of nursing home abuse and neglect cases. Hidden cameras placed by the family of one abused residence revealed severe abuse of a nursing home stroke resident. The Attorney General in New York has implemented a program of hidden cameras in nursing homes for the detection of abuse and neglect in an expansive effort aimed at the protection of nursing home residents.
In Arrellano v. Fillmore Convalescent Center, the family of Maria Arellano placed hidden cameras in her room after the management of the facility refused to investigate abuse and neglect reported by the family for more than a year prior to placing the hidden cameras. The family had noticed bruising on Ms. Arellano‘s face, arms and legs which could not be explained since Ms. Arellano was bed-ridden. The facility ignored the family and refused to investigate the claims. The family was forced to insert the hidden cameras in the room for the protection of Ms. Arellano. The camera captured very disturbing behavior on the part of a nursing home employee, Monica Garcia, showing her pulling Ms. Arellano by the hair, slapping her, dragging her, and violently bending her wrists, fingers, and neck.
The abuse was so severe that Ms. Garcia was charged criminally and eventually pled to criminal battery. It is unfortunate that hidden cameras were necessary for the protection of Ms. Arrellano yet this was the only way to properly investigate the abuse since the nursing home facility, Fillmore Convalescent, refused to take any action on its own. In the end, a California jury awarded a total of $7.75 million to Ms. Arellano. Of the $7.75 million award, $5 million was awarded for punitive damages while $2.75 million was awarded for compensatory damages.
The use of hidden cameras is a powerful tool for those who have the wherewithal to use this tool to protect against nursing home abuse and neglect. The New York Attorney General has begun using hidden cameras for the investigation and prosecution of abusive nursing home employees. The Attorney General has used hidden cameras for the arrest and prosecution for both abuse of residents as well as what appears to the problematic practice of falsifying records in efforts to cover up abuse and neglect. Attorney General Cuomo stated that the practice was part of ongoing efforts to investigate and prosecute individuals who “shamelessly mistreat Long Island‘s most vulnerable patients.”
It is unfortunate that hidden cameras are necessary for the protection of nursing home residents. These residents are often completely helpless to defend themselves. As in the Arellano case, they are often unable to even report the abuse due to their condition. The resident, the family, and society place their trust in these facilities to protect society‘s most vulnerable members. The breach of this trust is unacceptable. Abuse and neglect of nursing home residents is a moral outrage. It is should not be tolerated by a resident, a family or society. Attorney General Cuomo‘s program is a welcome development on the law enforcement front to insure that this misconduct does not go unpunished.
Sadly, though most of these facilities do perform competently and professionally, there remain those that simply have not gotten the message. There are far too many that continue to prey on the weakness of their helpless patients even when the families report abuse and neglect to management. The refusal to implement protections is generally economically driven. Damage awards as in the Arellano case serve to change the economic calculation. Where morality and basic human decency is not enough to change behavior, money often is. Punitive damages serve this important deterrent function.