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Nursing Home Abuse and the Camera Conundrum
There is no doubt that nursing home abuse is a serious problem across the United States. One tool being used to combat this issue is the placement of video cameras in rooms to capture incidents of abuse and neglect, providing clear evidence of cruelty. However, while webcams and other video devices have helped reveal abuse, there is another side to surveillance that is causing a significant amount of controversy.
Many family members are taking it upon themselves to install cameras in their loved ones’ rooms. For example, the granddaughters of a Garland nursing home resident placed cameras in the room of their 98-year-old grandmother in 2013. The cameras not only caught a worker slapping the resident, but also calling her “ugly” and “retarded.”
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there were approximately 60,000 allegations of nursing home abuse or neglect in 2012. The agency reported that 85 percent of nursing home facilities reported at least one allegation that year.
While cameras have given family members a greater sense of peace of mind knowing their elderly loved ones may be better protected, what about the privacy of nursing home residents? Cameras, in many instances, are on 24/7 – not just while residents are eating and sleeping, but also while they are having their diapers changed or being bathed. Most people would have an issue with their private life being made into a reality show.
In addition, many nursing home administrators are concerned that staff turnover could be an issue. They feel many employees will look for other jobs where their every move is not scrutinized by a camera.
Finding the Middle Ground
Trying to find a happy medium is a challenge, to say the least. One person’s protection may be another’s invasion of privacy.
Texas and a few other states have laws permitting electronic monitoring devices in the rooms of nursing home residents. The Texas law was the first of its kind, passed in 2001. It states that residents or their guardians are responsible for paying for the equipment, and a notice must be posted outside the resident’s room stating monitoring equipment is being used. The law allows a nursing home to require that any monitoring device be in plain view.
Oklahoma passed a similar law in 2014. The state law requires that if a resident has a roommate, the roommate must provide written consent before any sort of monitoring device is installed. If the roommate refuses, the nursing home will be responsible for accommodating any sort of room changes.
In an article that appeared on the website of The Pew Charitable Trusts, nursing home care advocate Amity Overall-Laib of The Consumer Voice offered some suggestions regarding precautions that should be taken when installing video cameras. These include:
- Not only should roommates consent, they should not be visible on camera if they do not wish to be recorded.
- Any recordings should remain the property of either the resident or his or her representative.
- Family members making the decision to install equipment should carefully weigh their loved one’s right to privacy and autonomy before doing so.
Not the Only Answer
As long as cameras are installed in a way that respects a resident’s rights, they may help protect against abuse. But they should never be the only tools used to ensure quality care. Family members still need to be vigilant when checking on the welfare of their loved ones, looking for signs of abuse such as unexplained bruises, burns, malnutrition, bedsores, neurological changes and more.