TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and the Division of Consumer Affairs today announced that a woman hired to provide private care to a 90-year-old stroke victim residing in a Bergen County assisted living facility has been arrested and charged with assaulting her elderly charge as a result of video footage captured by a hidden camera on loan from the Division’s Safe Care Cam program.
Police in Park Ridge charged Mitsou Gottheim, 50, of Nanuet, New York, with endangering the welfare of an incompetent person and simple assault, both disorderly persons offenses, after viewing video footage allegedly showing Gottheim physically assaulting the elderly woman, who is bedridden and unable to communicate verbally because of a stroke.
The video, turned over to police by the victim’s daughter, allegedly shows Gottheim slapping the elderly woman’s hand and roughly pushing her head back onto the pillow several times as she attempted to sit up and reach for something outside the camera’s view.
The footage was captured on a micro-surveillance camera the woman’s family obtained through the Division’s Safe Care Cam program, which makes hidden cameras available for free on loan to New Jersey residents who suspect their loved ones are being abused or neglected by caregivers.
“Elder abuse is a national concern and this case illustrates why New Jersey took the unprecedented step of creating a statewide program to ensure that all residents, regardless of their financial means, have access to state-of-the-art technology to help protect their loved ones,” said Attorney General Grewal. “While it is heartbreaking for any family to see their loved one being physically abused by a caretaker, the video footage obtained through our Safe Care Cam program provided this family with the evidence they needed to immediately intervene to stop the harm and take action to bring the alleged abuser to justice.”
Gottheim, who was hired by the woman’s family, is registered with the New York Department of Health as a certified home health aide, but is not certified by the New Jersey Board of Nursing (“the Board”) to provide those services in this state. The Board will review the matter for possible action against Gottheim.
The Safe Care Cam program is designed to address New Jersey’s growing concerns about elder abuse, a fear being fueled nationwide by increased media accounts of caregivers caught on hidden cameras physically or verbally assaulting their charges.
Recognizing the growing role that surveillance equipment plays in protecting patients from abuse, and recognizing that quality cameras can run as high as $300, the Division created the Safe Care Cam program to make cameras and memory cards available on loan for free to New Jersey residents who wished to monitor how their loved ones were being treated by in-home care providers. Five months later, in response to public requests, the program was expanded to allow the cameras to be used to monitor care in in nursing homes and other institutional care facilities.
“Our Safe Care Cam program sends a clear message that we are committed to safeguarding our most vulnerable residents from abuse and neglect,” said Paul R. Rodríguez, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “An undisclosed number of cameras are at work right now across the state, watching over loved ones to ensure they are treated with dignity and care. Caregivers who think they can get away with abusing or neglecting those they are entrusted to look after while no one is looking need to think twice, because a Safe Care Cam may be watching.”
Once a camera is in place, it is up to the participant to review the recorded footage, which can be played on a television or computer with adapters provided by the program. Participants are not required to turn over footage captured by the cameras. It is up to participants to decide to report any issues of concern to the Office of the Attorney General or other appropriate authorities.
To protect the integrity of the program, the Division does not disclose how many cameras are in use at any given time, but requests for the equipment have been steady and the feedback from participants has been positive. Many have said the recorded footage provided them with the knowledge and peace of mind that their loved ones are being cared for properly. Some have said the cameras revealed concerning behaviors that prompted them to hire others to care for their loved ones. And others have said the cameras led to frank discussions with caretakers that have opened lines of communication and resulted in better care for their loved ones. This is the first time police charges have been filed against a caregiver as a result of video captured on a Safe Care Cam.
Individuals who wish to participate in the Safe Care Cam program can call 973-504-6375 and leave a message in a voice mailbox that will be regularly monitored by Division staff responsible for the day-to-day operation of the program. Or they can call the Division on its toll-free line below and follow the voice prompts to leave a message.
Patients who believe that they have been treated by a licensed health care professional in an inappropriate manner can file an online complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504- 6200.