Spying by Nursing Home Draws Fire

Washington - Revelations that a Jewish nursing home hired a detective agency to spy on the relatives of patients seeking better care have drawn anger from the local community a decade after the alleged activity took place.

The Hebrew Home of Greater Washington, one of the capital area’s oldest and most prestigious nursing homes, was among the clients of a now-defunct Maryland-based firm that specialized in gathering information on activist groups and individuals. The means employed included searching in Dumpsters, pulling up private records and documents and inserting undercover operatives into groups being spied on.

The Hebrew Home paid $54,000 for the services provided by the company, Beckett Brown International. Details of the firm’s clients and its methods of operation were first revealed last month by The Washington Post.

“It is totally egregious for a nonprofit to use charitable funds given for care of senior citizens to pay for a detective agency,” a local communal leader said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of lack of formal information on this issue. “When people give money to the home, they don’t expect it to go for this kind of use.”

Information about Beckett Brown International’s operations was made public in recent months by a former investor in the firm, who came into possession of thousands of the company’s documents after it dissolved in 2000. The investor, John Dodd III, learned of the company’s unorthodox activity from the documents and began contacting individuals and groups mentioned in the paperwork, informing them that they may have been spied on during the mid-1990s.

In the case of the Hebrew Home, the management hired the firm to gather information on a group named Advocates for Enhanced Long Term Care, which included the relatives of residents as well as outside activists. The group fought for improving patient care practices at the Hebrew Home and for hiring more nursing staff. Beckett Brown planted a mole in the group, who attended meetings and filed detailed reports about its plans and intentions. According to a report in Washington Jewish Week, the company also got hold of phone records and personal information of group members.

The invoices for the detective service were made out to Warren Slavin, Hebrew Home’s CEO. Slavin still serves as president and CEO of the nursing home.

A spokeswoman for the Hebrew Home did not return calls from the Forward.

Shortly after the case became public, however, the Hebrew Home did issue a statement declaring that the hiring of Beckett Brown had been undertaken on the advice of the nursing home’s public relations advisers. According to the statement, members of Advocates for Enhanced Long Term Care had been threatening staff and interfering with work.

“We are not aware of anyone on behalf of Hebrew Home having approved or directed, nor would we condone, any unethical activity that may have been undertaken by Beckett Brown,” the statement read.

Author

Nathan Guttman

Nathan Guttman

Nathan Guttman staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Ha’aretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Contact Nathan at guttman@forward.com, or follow him on Twitter @nathanguttman

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Spying by Nursing Home Draws Fire

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