Worker caring for disabled Kiwis wrongfully took non-consensual photos of clients, Health and Disability Commissioner finds

Deputy Health and Disability Commissioner Rose Wall.
Deputy Health and Disability Commissioner Rose Wall. Photo credit: Supplied

A community support worker looking after people with disabilities wrongfully took non-consensual photos and videos of her clients, according to Deputy Health and Disability Commissioner Rose Wall.

In a statement on Monday, Wall released a report which found the woman, employed to care for people with disabilities, was in breach of the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers’ Rights when she stored photos and video on her phone and they were later accessed by her then-husband.

The complaint came about from the ex who said he'd asked the woman several times to stop sharing the imagery. He felt the "clients are vulnerable people and should be treated with care, empathy and should be given the privacy like we all deserve", the report says.

However, the accused claimed her "possessive and jealous" estranged husband gained access to the images without her consent.

She claims the "complaint is a result of a bitter, disgruntled, and vengeful ex-partner that has embarked on a crusade to ruin my life".

"His ultimate aim was for me to lose my job and go back to him because I would not survive financially," the woman said.

The man denied he accessed her device without consent, maintaining she shared the imagery with him.

The investigation couldn't determine how the imagery was accessed, but noted she still failed to keep them secure.

While the woman accepts she took the photographs and recordings, it's alleged she was using the imagery as evidence of violent and erratic behaviour.

Wall rejected the submission noting most of the imagery showed clients appearing calm. A total of 13 photographs were provided to HDC, including one of a client asleep on a couch.

The photos and videos show five clients.

"The act of taking these photographs and video recordings was inappropriate and did not demonstrate respect for the consumers," she said.

"In my view, the community support worker took these photographs and video recordings for an unnecessary and personal reason."

Wall found the worker - employed in November 2018 to support clients with their personal cares, medication, shopping, budgeting and general administration - breached clients rights to be treated with respect and their right to access services delivered in a way that respects their dignity.

She also found the woman failed to properly manage incidents shown in the videos, including one situation where a client was verballing abusing another. Video showed them saying "you smell like a dead rat" and "you look like the devil".

Wall said the worker did not take steps to ensure the client was safe and failed to report another incident of self-harm when a client was punching herself in the face.

The disability service has taken disciplinary action against the employee and is looking at making improvements to their induction training to address the use of mobile devices for taking photographs and video recordings.

The worker has made a formal apology to the clients and their families, but Wall also recommended she review and familiarise herself with the disability service’s policies, management standards and operating procedures.