Every year, hundreds of news reports surface about nursing home staff physically or sexually assaulting patients. Physical and cognitive vulnerabilities may make it difficult for residents to report abuse or to have their reports taken seriously. Web-enabled digital cameras offer a fantastic solution. as a nursing home abuse and neglect lawyer, I wish we had video in every case.
Evidence suggests that even more people are putting cameras in a relative’s room to detect and deter abuse. Seven states have passed laws expressly allowing families to monitor the care of aging relatives this way. Many states like South Carolina have no laws prohibiting the use of cameras.
While state laws regulating camera use require consent from the patient or a family member. Many residents are unlikely to be consulted about camera installation, because they lack, or are perceived to lack, capacity for consent. In these cases, children often act as parents’ legal proxy to give consent on their behalf.
Since nursing home rooms are usually shared, the consent and privacy of roommates presents an ethical problem, too. Inevitably, roommates’ conversations will be recorded, and they will be filmed when passing through a camera’s field of vision. All of the states that allow in-room cameras require that roommates or their legal representative be informed of surveillance and allowed to require that the camera be pointed away from their bed.
Webcams are a consumer response to the United States’ inadequate long-term care system. Long-term care in the United States is poorly funded, primarily by Medicaid. Medicare covers acute but not ongoing services and supports.
As a result, the nursing home staff trusted to do this demanding and fraught work receive low pay and no benefits. Turnover is particularly high among caregivers who provide the most hands-on, intimate care in American nursing homes. With better pay and working conditions, nursing homes could attract more direct-care staff who would stay in their jobs longer and be more invested in their workplace. Nursing assistants could get to know residents, and keep a better eye on them. Enhanced training on recognizing and reporting abuse would also promote accountability.