In recent years, elder abuse in nursing homes has become a more publicized issue, especially for the more than 50% of assisted living residents over the age of 85. However, one lawmaker aims to combat the issue by allowing residents and their families to place cameras, hidden or otherwise, in their rooms to help protect against abuse.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office is currently drafting legislation, which could be introduced in 2015, to allow seniors in Illinois nursing homes to use cameras to keep an eye on staff. Family members will also have the opportunity to place those cameras, especially if they suspect abuse.
Madigan’s goal is to bring the “horror stories” of abuse and neglect faced by elderly assisted living patients to light.
If the law is approved, Illinois would become the fifth state out of at least a dozen to consider the laws to allow all residents to maintain cameras in their rooms, joining New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Washington. In Maryland, residents are also allowed to use camera, but only if the facility permits them.
Maryland has other laws on the books to protect individuals in medical care, such as requiring hospital residents to be notified by staff if they are being kept for observation instead of being admitted — and to let them know about potential financial obligations.
Unfortunately, there isn’t one single organization that tallies the number of abuse or neglect allegations in nursing homes. However, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General’s Office found this August that 85% of nursing facilities reported at least one allegation to the agency in 2012 — an estimated total of about 60,000 such claims of staff members abusing or neglecting residents.
The main concern for the nursing home industry, however, is that the cameras are used to ensure that residents are receiving quality care, said Greg Crist, senior vice president of public affairs for the American Health Care Association. However, Crist says that move could cause high turnover in nursing home staff if employees are uncomfortable with that level of monitoring.
The issue of cameras in residents’ rooms has also drawn scrutiny from privacy and legal advocates. Consent for the cameras’ placement could be difficult to obtain, explained Kathy Swanson, regional ombudsman for the Legal Assistance Foundation, a senior advocacy organization.
Swanson pointed out that seniors who have had a stroke or other mental impairment, or those who may want privacy getting dressed or changing an adult diaper, may not want the cameras.
“In a lot of cases nobody knows what the person who is impacted by this law wants,” Swanson said.