Covert surveillance program in NY hospitals uses hand-washing compliance excuse to spy on workers

Friday, June 21, 2013 by: Jonathan Benson, staff writer
Tags: surveillance, hospitals, handwashing

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(NaturalNews) Rates of hand washing among workers in the healthcare industry are apparently so low that some hospitals are now setting up surveillance programs to monitor the hygiene habits of doctors, nurses and other staff members. According to a recent report by the U.K.'s Daily Mail, this is precisely the method being employed by New York's North Shore University Hospital, where a complex spying system has been installed at the facility under the guise of improving cleanliness standards.

We first reported on North Shore's employee surveillance program back in 2011, but the healthcare facility is back in the news for its continually evolving approach to fighting deadly bacterial infections and other harm caused by poor sanitation practices. The latest reports indicate that hospital staff at North Shore are constantly being watched by motion sensor cameras that activate automatically when a person enters or leaves a room. These cameras monitor whether or not hospital staff is complying with hand washing standards.

"When healthcare workers at Long Island, New York's North Shore University Hospital enter an intensive care room ... a motion sensor is triggered," explains a recent report in the Daily Mail. "A camera is then turned on and its video footage sent to a center in India where workers watch to ensure proper hand hygiene is taking place."

According to the same report, other invasive surveillance measures include hiring secret monitors who are told to dress like hospital personnel and keep their eye on the hand washing habits of employees. Staff members who attain a certain threshold of compliance are later rewarded with vouchers for free food and coffee, while those with low compliance rates are likely to get what is known as a "red card" from their colleagues for potentially putting the lives of their patients in danger.

"It's a way to communicate in a non-confrontational way that also builds teamwork," says Dr. Brian Koll, who trains hand washing compliance coaches at Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan. Similar to the system at North Shore, Beth Israel has its own surveillance program that encourages patients and their families to ask doctors and nurses directly whether or not they wash their hands, a more forthcoming approach that has been quite successful thus far.

Is aggressive hospital surveillance an invasion of privacy?

Both surveillance programs have apparently been able to achieve their stated goals, as compliance with hand washing has soared from around 6.5 percent to between 80 and 90 percent, according to the latest figures. Still, others remain concerned that these types of surveillance programs may be violating hospital workers' privacy rights, particularly in the more sensitive areas of hospitals where cameras may be secretly tracking workers' every moves.

"This Big Brother-ish approach is one of a panoply of efforts to promote a basic tenet of infection prevention, hand-washing, or as it is more clinically known in the hospital industry, hand-hygiene," writes Anemona Hartocollis for The New York Times (NYT). "With drug-resistant superbugs on the rise, according to a recent report by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and with hospital-acquired infections costing $30 billion and leading to nearly 100,000 patient deaths a year, hospitals are willing to try almost anything to reduce the risk of transmission."

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