Been Caught Stealing

January 21, 2012

Yesterday I was doing some documentation after my group on the psych unit and I overheard a couple of co-workers talking.  They were discussing an incident that was recently in the local paper where a nurse at an area Assisted Living was caught stealing Vicodin and prns (emergency sedatives) from six elderly residents there.  This is somewhat close to home because I work at that AL facility, in the same unit, and also because one of my co-workers talking about it was the whistle blower on the whole situation.  Her aunt was one of the people being stolen from, and she was the person who got the ball rolling in the investigation, but only after at least six months of theft.

The sad thing is that this stuff happens all the time, everywhere.  The things being stolen are usually more sentimentally valuable, such as wedding rings or other pieces of jewelry, but theft is a huge issue in elder care facilities, regardless of the item.  I have a theory about this.  Most of the care assistants and nurses in the facilities I work at are from different countries, speak very little english and aren’t paid well enough for the difficult jobs they do.  If I put myself in their shoes, I can almost understand why things are getting stolen.  In the words of Gloria from Modern Family, “it’s a doggie dog world” (dog-eat-dog world).  In our world, when you don’t have a well-paying job and also have very little chance of improving your situation because of a gigantic language barrier, it’s every person for him or herself.  You pay the bills however you can.  Some people collect cans and bottles from neighbors’ recycling bins, some walk up and down busy intersections asking for money, and some steal.  When someone steals from an elderly person, though, it’s hard to understand it even under the most dire of circumstances.

(Aside: The following question, like all of my questions is not meant to be rhetorical)

What is keeping administration from putting cameras in patients’ rooms and apartments?  

Every elder care facility I have ever worked at has had issues with theft.  If there’s something I’ve come to realize it’s that there will always be thieves, but do we have to let them to get away with it?  If the cameras are protecting the residents (obviously family members would have to approve the camera actually recording something), isn’t that the only thing that matters?  I asked this question to an executive director of an AL I used to work at once.  Her reply was that if cameras are placed in rooms or apartments, then staff has to be notified.  Why?  If the cameras are kept a secret, won’t that be more effective in catching and then removing the people who are stealing?  If I ran a facility, I would not want to have people who steal from the elderly working for me.  On the other hand, by telling staff that there are cameras all over the place, are we saving people from themselves?  Would people who would otherwise steal refrain from temptation because of their awareness of the cameras?

I think cameras seem like a win-win situation.  If the cameras are there, and everyone knows it, even if they’re not recording anything most of the time, would that solve the problem?  A financial director of a facility is bound to ask where the money to pay for the cameras is coming from, and that’s a good question.  I don’t have the answer to that, but I do know that if my mom was in a facility years from now and her jewelry started to go missing, I’d be pretty ticked off.  I’d probably want to buy a camera myself and catch the idiot who is taking my mom’s stuff.

Anyway, that’s close to what ended up happening in the real-life situation from the first paragraph.  After months of noticing tylenol replacements and missing pills, the nursing director at this AL put a camera in my co-worker’s aunt’s room (with her permission, of course) and caught the 29 year-old nurse red-handed.  This nurse simultaneously violated not only the law (what she had been doing is a felony), but did something morally and ethically despicable AND destroyed her career.  I don’t wish anyone that kind of repercussion, but after months and months of stealing pills, it stopped being an error in judgement and started being a calculated thought process which deserves to be punished.

Wouldn’t it be nice if this problem could be prevented?