There is an interesting article in the University of Illinois Elder Law Journal entitled “Big Brother” and Grandma: An Argument for Video Surveillance in Nursing Homes.
The premise of the article is that video surveillance systems in nursing homes provide additional safety to the nursing home patient and peace-of-mind for family members who have an elderly loved one in a nursing home. The big issue is whether nursing homes can refuse care if the family insists on a camera in the patient’s room.
The author also addressed a few pressing issues regarding nursing home surveillance. Who will pay for the installation? Who will monitor the captured footage? This will depend on the laws being passed by state legislatures across the country. Several states, including Maryland, have already passed such legislation that lays this out.
Video surveillance systems in nursing homes residents’ rooms
Many nursing home facilities throughout the country have already installed cameras in common areas and parking lots. The addition of cameras in the residents’ rooms adds an extra layer of protection and accountability. It makes residents safer by documenting video evidence of abuse. Installing cameras helps ensure that nursing home facilities are providing the highest quality of care. It holds them accountable when they fail to do so. The families of nursing home residents can use video footage as compelling evidence of nursing home abuse. It can confirm any suspicions or concerns they may over their loved one’s safety.
States that permit cameras in nursing homes
The following eleven states allow cameras in nursing homes:
- New Mexico
This list may continue to grow soon, as legislatures in states like Florida are debating the use of cameras in nursing homes. However, even the rules in the listed states vary. For instance, Maryland nursing homes may choose to deny the installation of cameras.
The Maryland General Assembly passed House Bill 149 in 2003, named “Vera’s Law.” It was named after State Delegate Sue Hecht’s grandmother Vera, who she witnessed being abused in a nursing home. The law does not explicitly require all nursing homes to install electronic monitoring systems in their facilities. However, it requires the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to provide guidelines for those nursing homes that permit their residents, or legal representative, to install them. Vera’s Law intends these guidelines to help nursing homes develop comprehensive policies for their installation and use. The guidelines include the following:
- Vera’s Law only covers video recordings and not audio. They define electronic monitoring devices as “monitoring systems, video surveillance cameras, web-based cameras, or video phones.” The devices may be interactive or only a recording mechanism.
- The facility may consider policies on how to handle electronic monitoring requests. They are permitted to require a contract executed by the facility and the resident. This may comprise a written request for the electronic device’s installation.
- The resident, or their legal representative, must obtain written and signed consent from other room residents before installation. The other resident may condition their consent, such as requiring that the cameras be pointed away from them or even prohibiting their installation and use in the room.
- The facility must post signs at the resident’s room’s entrance, stating that an electronic device is monitoring the room.
- The facility determines who is responsible for the camera’s cost, installation, maintenance. They can require the resident, or their legal representative, to incur these costs. Both the staff and the State must be notified of electronic monitoring.
- The camera must be installed in a fixed position, be unable to rotate, and be visible to everyone.
- The facility can give custodianship of the recordings to either themselves or the resident’s family. However, if the facility has custodianship, all recordings are part of the resident’s medical record. Any state agency may have access to these records.
- According to the guideline, if the family has custodianship, the facility should encourage them to report any suspected abuse, neglect, injuries they observe in viewing the footage.
- The footage may be reviewed during an annual survey of the facility or an investigation of a complaint.
Vera’s Law’s guidelines make an effort to work around certain issues including privacy and footage accessibility. Obtaining written consent from all other room residents ensures that their rights are not infringed upon. The law also ensures that the video footage is always accessible, no matter who has custodianship. If the footage is under the facility’s custodianship, they are considered medical records. If the footage is under the family’s custodianship, they have direct access to it. This means that the footage can be introduced in a Maryland nursing home abuse case.
Are surveillance cameras the total solution?
Cameras are never the total solution to serious problems in nursing homes that lead to lawsuits. Can they help? Sure. State legislatures should make sure the patients may install cameras in their own rooms. It is fair; it is within their rights as tenants, and it will make patients safer. Nursing homes object largely because they don’t like the evidence that gets accumulated, which shows neglect and poor care. The answer to these concerns? Provide better care.