Okay, so it didn't involve a disguise, but I did make an anonymous phone call to the New York State Department of Health.
When I interviewed Mark Kissinger, their Deputy Commissioner of Long Term Care recently, he and Jacqueline Pappalardi, the Director of the Division of Residential Services, were friendly and reasonable. They said the Nursing Home Complaint hotline (888-201-4563) was open and that in addition to taking complaints, the State was there to help facilities and staff with questions and problems that might arise. So I phoned to see if there could be a collaborative exchange with the Department of Health via the hotline.
I dialed *67 before the call—so my name and number wouldn't be visible—and asked them whether or not it was against State regulations to use a cell phone in a nursing home. And guess what? They answered right away and were friendly, reasonable, and knowledgeable!
According to the hotline staff, there are no State regulations against using cell phones, but there may be a facility policy against it. There is a State regulation about using the camera function in the nursing home. The Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) states that it's a violation of a resident's privacy to take a photo of them without their permission. A resident needs to sign a waiver to agree to a photograph by a staff member, and care should be taken to ensure that another resident isn't in the background of the photo, which would be a violation of their HIPAA rights.
I found this to be very helpful information, delivered in a respectful, collegial manner.
Dr. Barbera is an author and a licensed psychologist consulting in long-term care facilities in the New York City area. She frequently lectures on subjects related to psychology, aging, and nursing homes. Dr. Barbera is available for private consulting with organizations, institutions, and individuals around eldercare issues. Visit her personal blog at www.mybetternursinghome.blogspot.com.