Over the years, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has consistently heard “horror stories” about the abuse or neglect of nursing home residents. Madigan’s office is drafting legislation that would allow Illinois nursing home residents and their families to place cameras in their rooms to help protect them. Madigan said that putting a camera in the room is an easy and inexpensive way to monitor a senior’s care. She noted that the Illinois Department of Public Health gets nearly 19,000 calls a year about suspected abuse or neglect in nursing homes, and responds to more than 5,000 complaints. About 1.5 million people reside in nearly 16,000 nursing homes nationwide at any given time.
“Residents and family members should have the option, for their own peace of mind, to monitor what is taking place,” said Madigan. “If something goes wrong, you can see what actually happened.” State attorneys general in Ohio and New York also have used undercover video surveillance in residents’ rooms (with family members’ permission) to uncover abuse or neglect, resulting in arrests or indictments.
Illinois would join at least four other states — New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Washington — that have laws or regulations allowing residents to maintain cameras in their rooms. In Maryland, cameras can be placed in a resident’s room, but only if the facility permits them, according to state guidelines.
While no one keeps data on the total number of allegations of abuse or neglect in nursing homes, an August report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General’s Office found that 85 percent of nursing facilities reported at least one such allegation to the agency in 2012. It estimated that about 60,000 allegations involved staffers abusing or neglecting residents.
Since 2000, at least a dozen states have considered some type of law or regulation allowing cameras in nursing home rooms to help detect and deter abuse and neglect, according to Amity Overall-Laib, a manager at The Consumer Voice, a national advocacy organization that promotes quality long-term care. However, industry lobbyists have successfully fought numerous legislative proposals permitting electronic surveillance.
Overall-Laib said her group supports a resident’s right to decide whether to use audio or visual electronic technology. But it also believes that precautions must be taken. Among them: the resident’s roommate should also consent and not be visible on camera; recordings should be the property of the resident or his representative; and family members who make a decision on behalf of an incapacitated resident should carefully weigh his right to privacy and autonomy before installing the equipment.
“Putting in cameras is definitely an important issue,” said Overall-Laib. “As long as the areas of consent and privacy are addressed, it should be up to the resident to choose one or refuse one. If the resident can’t provide consent, if they have a guardian or a legal representative, then the state needs to have a very clearly defined process about consent.”
In the last several months, Madigan said the issue hit home with her. An elderly friend who had broken his hip and been sent to a rehabilitation facility told her how poorly he had been treated there. Another friend complained about how her mother, who had suffered a stroke, had gotten subpar care in a nursing home.
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