Hidden cameras show apparent abuse inside South Florida nursing homes

Should cameras be required inside Florida nursing homes?

POMPANO BEACH, Fla. – More and more family members are placing hidden cameras inside rooms to monitor the quality of care of their loved ones at nursing homes.

Local 10 News obtained disturbing images of what can happen inside the walls of a nursing home. There is renewed debate over the issue following the deaths of 13 people from a nursing facility in Hollywood during Hurricane Irma.

Video recorded inside a Pompano Beach room of a 94-year-old man with dementia who is unable to speak are cringe-worthy.

It shows a certified nursing assistant forcefully trying to get the man off the bed. She sends him free-falling into a chair and then hits him on the head.

In another clip, the nursing assistant is seen dousing him with mouthwash.

"Mouthwash has alcohol in it. Guess what? He's going to end up with ulcers and bedsores from dried out skin, and that's exactly what happened to this man when he had stage three ulcers, that ultimately proved to be fatal," Blake Dolman, who represented the man's family in a lawsuit against the nursing home, said.

The hidden camera was placed in the elderly man's room by a concerned daughter, who said it caught her worst fears.

"Ninety-nine percent of the time, the nursing home says, 'No, that didn't happen,'" Dolman said.

The video in that case was so valuable, Dolman said, because it made what happened unquestionable.

"It saved the judicial system time," Dolman said. "It saved the attorneys time."

A hidden camera video taken inside a South Florida nursing home shows a worker sleeping as an alarm indicating something is wrong in a patient's room is clearly blaring.

In another hidden camera video, a patient's breathing tube appears to be removed by a nursing assistant. She appears to do nothing, despite alarms going off. She even reenters the room again after leaving. Five minutes go by until another employee comes in and sees the tube is disconnected.

That nursing assistant claims she knew nothing about what happened, even though the video shows otherwise.

Could cameras have alerted someone to do something faster in Hollywood after Hurricane Irma?

Six states -- Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Washington -- allow the use of video monitoring.

"I believe that the state of Florida require that residents be presented with the option or the right to have cameras in their rooms," Dolman said.

Attorney Don Fann has spent more than 20 years representing and defending nursing homes.

"I know how nursing homes operate from the inside out," Fann said.

Fann now uses his expertise to sue them.

"The staff didn't want to be observed," he said. "They didn't want to have that pressure, and that is ridiculous."

In 2012, a bill in the Florida Legislature that would allow the use of cameras died in committee.

"If they're not doing anything wrong, why be against the camera?" Dolman said.

The Florida Health Care Association, which represents 550 of the state's 683 nursing homes, is against cameras.

Local 10 News asked and had several interviews set up with some of its members. They were all canceled.

"The use of surveillance cameras carries a number of challenges, and we must remember that cameras observe, they do not protect," association spokeswoman Kristen Knapp said in a statement to Local 10 News. "Cameras provide access to footage of residents in their most intimate moments. Even if proper consent is obtained by one resident, the issue becomes complicated when there are roommates involved."

Several state legislators said they are researching the issue, but at this point, no bills have been filed for the upcoming legislative session.

The state of Florida revoked the license of the the certified nursing assistant who was accused of abusing the 94-year-old man. Family members said they didn't want to pursue criminal charges against her.

About the Author:

Jeff Weinsier joined Local 10 News in September 1994. He is currently an investigative reporter for Local 10. He is also responsible for the very popular Dirty Dining segments.