Attorney General Cuomo Expands Use Of Hidden Cameras To Buffalo Region To Root Out Nursing Home Abuse

BUFFALO, N.Y. (October 21, 2008) – Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that his office is bringing to the Buffalo region its hidden camera technology to crack down on patient abuse and neglect at New York nursing and rehabilitation homes.

The Attorney General’s Medical Fraud Control Unit is leading the nation in employing this type of high-tech surveillance to expose and prosecute mistreatment of patients in nursing homes across the state. The technology has already resulted in nearly 30 convictions of endangering patients’ heath and falsifying records to conceal neglect.

“We trust health care facilities to provide top level care for our loved ones,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “There are unfortunately some caregivers who cut corners and shirk their duties, leaving patients who cannot help themselves in dire jeopardy. In Western New York, we are quite literally keeping an eye on New York’s most vulnerable.”

The Attorney General’s use of hidden video surveillance technology involves the placement of cameras in patient rooms to document the level of care – or lack thereof – provided by the facilities’ staff. The New York Attorney General’s Office was the first to use such surveillance in a trial, leading to the conviction of multiple nurse aides and the owner of the nursing home.

The investigations show widespread problems that are essentially “closed door” mysteries that the office was only able to discover through high-technology cameras and cooperative families. The Attorney General’s use of surveillance in nursing facilities – which involves the full consent of the families of the patients – has revealed alarming instances of abuse, neglect and criminal activity by employees, including:

  • Failing to give water and hydration to an immobile patient and leaving him in his own waste for nearly a full day;

  • Routinely failing to turn and position an immobile resident, putting the resident at serious risk of dangerous skin breakdown and pressure sores;

  • Failing to shower a patient twice a week as required surveillance footage showed that at one point the patient had not been showered for more than a week;

  • Failing to perform range-of-motion exercises on a resident’s extremities to prevent muscle contraction;

  • Only one caregiver transferring a bed-ridden patient to and from his wheelchair with a mechanical lift that required two people to operate, resulting in the resident’s head striking the side rail of the bed;

  • Leaving a comatose 59-year old patient in his own waste for hours at a time, while suffering from skin lesions and not receiving proper maintenance for his feeding tube. There were over 40 occasions when the resident was not washed after an incontinent episode, and his oral care was sporadic;

  • Failing to apply a necessary skin ointment for a patient in a chronic vegetative state, as well as failing to follow gastrointestinal tube protocol, and failing to ensure that the patient was turned and repositioned every two hours;

  • Sleeping, watching movies or leaving the facility during shifts where they were responsible for caring for patient; and

  • Falsifying records to conceal the neglect and endangerment.

Recently, Cuomo announced the arrest of four employees of a Medford, Long Island nursing home after footage from a hidden surveillance camera revealed serious neglect of a resident who required assistance with all activities of daily living, as well as other conduct that endangered the resident. In total thus far, hidden camera investigations in New York state have led to the convictions of 26 employees. The investigation at Medford is continuing and further arrests are anticipated.

“This is a warning to all nursing homes and facilities: we are watching you,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “If caregivers with ill intent believe they can get away with neglecting or abusing the patients they are responsible for, they are grossly mistaken. If we see such heinous acts, we will hold those putting our most vulnerable residents in harm’s way accountable for their actions.”

Lois Aronstein, AARP NY State Director, said: “Nursing home residents and their families should expect the delivery of quality services. Anything short of this is unacceptable. Attorney General Cuomo’s new and innovative approach to fight abuse and neglect in our nursing homes will help ensure that our loved ones are receiving quality care and that those who neglect or abuse the elderly are brought to justice."

Attorney General Cuomo urges New Yorkers who witness or suspect incidences of patient abuse or other types of Medicaid fraud to call his office at 800-771-7755.

The charges against the defendants are only accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty. The cases and investigation are being handled by Attorney General Cuomo’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit under the supervision of Deputy Attorney General Heidi Wendel.