The Veterans Affairs Department inspector general might find nothing wrong with hiding a camera in a smoke detector to spy on a patient, but the powerful chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee does.
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., is sponsoring the Veterans’ Privacy Act of 2013, which would require VA to obtain patient consent before installing cameras in a treatment room. The bill, HR 1490, “will keep covert, Big-Brother tactics out of VA medical centers and protect the sacred trust that should exist between VA and veteran patients and their families,” Miller said in a statement.
The bill, introduced April 11, is his response to a June 2012 incident at the James Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa, Fla., where a camera was hidden in a patient’s room, without the consent of the veteran or his family, after disagreements arose over the treatment and care of the brain-injured veteran, according to an IG report released April 11. The veteran’s family also had alleged mistreatment of patients by the hospital staff.
The family, not identified in the report, discovered a camera hidden in a fake smoke detector the same day it was installed, according to the IG report. They appear to have been informed that a camera would be installed, but not that it would be hidden.
“When the veteran’s family asked about the camera, VA officials first stated that the camera did not exist, then changed their story and admitted that the ‘smoke detector’ was actually a video camera,” Miller said.
When asked if the camera was recording, the VA told them it was ‘only monitoring the patient.’”
Eventually, it was discovered that the camera was recording, Miller said.
After the family complained, lawmakers asked the IG to review whether placing the camera in the room was appropriate and legal. The report says it was “reasonable” and not even unusual, because cameras are widely used throughout VA. On average, hospitals have 148 cameras installed. The Tampa hospital was above average, with 279, the IG report says.
Miller doesn’t like it.
“This type of behavior is as bizarre as it is outrageous,” he said. “To think that some VA employees actually thought it a good idea to covertly record a patient with a video camera disguised as a smoke detector really just boggles the mind.
“What’s worse is that when we questioned VA regarding the legality of these actions, department officials contended they had done nothing wrong,” Miller said. “By its very nature, medical care requires that an individual forfeit some privacy in order to obtain treatment. However, when a veteran walks into a VA medical facility, they should not have to worry about a covert camera being in their treatment room.”
Miller and other Florida lawmakers had pressed VA to develop a nationwide policy for the use of both visible and hidden cameras. Miller said VA told his staff the new policy would not be ready until September, which he noted is more than a year after the Tampa hospital incident.