The Narrabundah nursing home at the centre of a suspicious death investigation rejected calls to install surveillance cameras in its secure dementia ward five years ago, arguing they would not prevent deaths and would breach the privacy and dignity of aged-care residents.
A 94-year-old man from NSW was found dead in the 32-bed dementia ward of the Jindalee Aged Care Residence about 8am on Saturday.
Police are treating the death as suspicious.
Two aged-care residents with severe dementia have been moved by the facility to a secure hospital unit while investigations continue.
The Canberra Times can reveal that the ACT coroner urged Jindalee to install CCTV cameras in its dementia ward after the death of resident Ruth Rankin Gibson Mussen in early January 2007. The 94-year-old had died from multiple organ failure and a broken femur several days after she was pulled from her bed by another resident.
But Jindalee rejected the coroner's recommendation to install the surveillance cameras, saying it would constitute a gross breach of the privacy and dignity of dementia sufferers, was impractical, and would not prevent future deaths.
Johnson Village Services managing director Gary Johnson said that decision was backed up by numerous dementia care experts and advice from the Department of Health and Ageing.
''It was unanimously agreed that that was not either appropriate in terms of privacy or effective in terms of stopping the sort of situation that occurred, or practical in terms of having someone seated 24 hours a day watching a bank of 20 monitors in a 30-bed facility,'' Mr Johnson said.
A departmental report cleared the centre of breaching their responsibilities under the relevant law and Coroner Grant Lalor found no fault in the dead woman's care.
''Nothing that I have said is to be taken as a criticism of the treatment afforded to the deceased by the particular residence where she was housed,'' Mr Lalor wrote. ''This was a tragic, unfortunate accident.''
The question of whether cameras should be installed in dementia wards and monitored by nurses came up during the hearing, with Jindalee staff raising fears about the privacy and dignity of residents.
''Perceived considerations of privacy and preservation of dignity may have to take secondary consideration to the safety of the frail and vulnerable,'' the coroner said.
Mr Johnson said the nursing home was currently seeking approval to install surveillance cameras in the facility's hallways, as well as wireless cameras that could be moved into ''hotspots'' where appropriate.
''What we are doing now is we're seeking approval from the health department and the residents' families to do part of that surveillance work that we believe we're allowed to do,'' he said.
''That is under way as we speak.''
The Department of Health and Ageing said yesterday that it would launch its own investigation into the latest death, to determine if there had been a breach of the service's obligations under the Aged Care Act 1997.
A post-mortem is expected to be completed today.