Nursing Home Abuse Captured on Video
At York Law Firm, we represent families whose loved ones are the victims of elder abuse and neglect in California Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNFs) and Elder Care Homes. We have witnessed the most heinous crimes against the elderly and have worked hard to bring the perpetrators to justice for more than two decades. Unfortunately, elder abuse is a crime that often happens behind closed doors. Most of the time, we piece together facts from forensic evidence, broken bones, brain hemorrhages, pressure sores, bruises, burns, and toxicology reports. Residents with dementia and other forms of cognitive decline are often helpless to speak up and speak out against their caregivers. Thankfully, evidence of elder abuse is surfacing with increasing frequency from cameras that families are installing in nursing home resident rooms.
It’s one thing to read about cases of abuse and neglect in nursing homes; it’s another to see the horrifying events unfold before your eyes. So, I must caution you before you click on this YouTube link showing Esther Piskor, then a 78-year-old dementia patient at a nursing home in Cleveland, being abused by a nurse; prepare yourself. The fact that it’s real and not a reenactment makes it all the more sickening.
Watching these disturbing videos is difficult, even for me and attorneys in my firm who have seen it all. Said one, “A video like this could be Exhibit A to the discussions we probably all have about nursing homes with friends/families/acquaintances/public when they want to know if these places are “really bad.” Said another, “That video was extremely hard to watch.”
The Piskor video is upsetting and heartbreaking but is also, unfortunately, just the tip of the iceberg. A search of YouTube for “Nursing Home Abuse Caught on Camera” turns up nearly a dozen more videos, some of which are even more disturbing. So, no doubt, a lot more will be coming.
In Cleveland, as a result of the nursing home abuse caught on camera, the General Assembly has sponsored a bipartisan Senate Bill 58, also called “Esther’s Law,” in honor of the woman whose horrible abuse sparked outrage across the nation. The new law would allow in-room cameras to be installed as a matter of right and not permission. In many states, nursing homes have resisted when family members have tried to install “granny cams” or other live video feeds by insisting they violate privacy.
In the case of Esther Piskor, in 2011, her son Steve said he was suspicious that someone was abusing his mother, so he complained to the administration. His request to install a camera in his mother’s room was denied because the nursing home said it violated the privacy right of its nursing home aides. Piskor argued that employees don’t have privacy rights in his mother’s room, but the administration turned him down. Undeterred, Steve installed a hidden camera. The footage eventually led to the arrest and prosecution of Esther’s nurse. She pleaded guilty to seven counts of patient abuse, fourth-degree felonies and was sentenced to 10 ½ years in prison.
Despite the obvious benefit to patients and families, the law in Ohio remains unsigned. There are powerful lobbying groups that would prefer to keep nursing home patients’ families from having video access to their loved ones. They argue that it might cause an undue cost burden on facilities to install high-speed Wi-Fi or other equipment. In the case of SB58, the bill specifies that the cost of installing, maintaining, and removing any cameras is up to the resident, their guardian, or attorney, and nursing homes would have no responsibility to pay for Wi-Fi unless they already provide free Wi-Fi. What other dubious arguments will they raise to keep cameras out of their facilities?
What should you do if you notice Nursing Home Abuse Captured on Video?
Perhaps one of the few benefits to come from the Coronavirus pandemic is that it has become obvious that cameras in nursing homes will increase, and the laws will eventually have to catch up with reality. Residents who were forced to quarantine for weeks and months often found solace in being connected via video. Those individuals will not revert to a video-less world.
Many states already have video laws on their books, including Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Washington. A few states have guidelines but not official laws, including Maryland and New Jersey.
Installing a surveillance camera ought to be a right in every state, and perhaps someday we can hope that the United States Congress decides to enact Federal legislation to permit the installation of cameras in nursing home residents’ rooms.
We would caution families to be careful about installing hidden surveillance cameras in nursing homes without consent. Even if you think you have the right to monitor your loved one remotely, the law may not be on your side. You may be liable for violating the privacy of other residents who might be inadvertently filmed without their consent.
The best option is to be honest, and forthright with the nursing home administration. Ask permission to install a camera. Even though California has no law that requires them to consent, many facilities will happily oblige. In general, they would want the camera to be in plain sight, and often they will ask that a sign be set up to make everyone aware that a recording device is in place. If the nursing facility objects, you are strongly advised to consult with an attorney before taking matters into your own hands. Placing hidden cameras or microphones in a room without consent could open you up to prosecution. In theory, installing a camera without permission could violate HIPAA and the Wiretap Act. We are not aware of anyone being prosecuted for installing a surveillance camera in a patient’s room, but that does not mean it couldn’t happen. Still, if surveillance footage does show evidence of elder abuse or neglect, most courts would likely allow such video to be admitted under the theory that a legal technicality does not avoid accountability.
As for Esther Piskor, she survived the horrors of elder abuse and died, eight years after the horrifying footage was filmed, at the age of 85.
York Law Firm represents families whose loved ones may have been subjected to physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, financial exploitation, as well as healthcare fraud and abuse. Our Sacramento attorneys have successfully obtained millions of dollars on behalf of nursing home abuse victims. Some of the classic signs of elder abuse and neglect injuries are bruises, broken bones, pressure sores, subdural hematomas, overmedication, and deprivation of essential food. If you see sudden and unexplained bruises, burns, abrasions, pressure marks or broken bones, or sudden and unexplained changes in financial situation or a withdrawal from normal activities, please reach out to us directly.
If you have witnessed Nursing Home Abuse Captured on Video please contact us.
Attorney Wendy York of York Law Firm specializes in prosecuting Nursing Home Abuse, Elder Abuse and Wrongful Death cases in California. For further information, please contact Wendy York today!