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Videocams: Can They Beat Nursing Home Abuse?

Videocams: Can They Beat Nursing Home Abuse?
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Videocams: Can They Beat Nursing Home Abuse?

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Legal Nurse ConsultingCan videocam technology come to the rescue when it comes to protecting elderly relatives who have been entrusted to a nursing home? What are the ethical and legal issues involved in using videocams that are used to monitor resident care and the activities of nursing home care workers and staff?
Videocams have become legal in several states over the last few years, but their use is still controversial, not least for the nursing home management and staff.

The idea is to fit a videocam or motion sensitive camera somewhere in the room that an elderly or disabled resident uses in a nursing home when it is suspected that that person may not be getting proper care and attention, or worse, at the receiving end of physical and / or emotional abuse. Many people, especially those who have already experienced older family members housed in residential homes, are aware of the number of cases of abuse throughout the country, many of which are never revealed or exposed.

At least half a dozen states explicitly allow this sort of technology in nursing homes, either installed by relatives of residents, or by the nursing homes themselves. In many cases, the law has changed because of a particularly highly profile incident that has made the headlines. This may however be the tip of the iceberg.

One such example that led to Oklahoma allowing videocams in the state’s nursing homes 5 years ago now was a particularly horrifying case when a suspicious daughter hid a motion camera in the room of her 96 year old mother who had dementia. Doris Racher actually forgot about the camera, which was disguised as a clock, for a whole month, but when she eventually examined the recording was shocked. Her mother had latex gloves shoved in her mouth, her body slammed on to the bed and had been mocked repeatedly by more than one care worker at the facility. After the recording was revealed, one of the aides pleaded guilty to abuse, while another fled the country. The state legislature passed a law allowing videocams in nursing homes within months.

But not everyone is convinced that hidden or not so hidden cameras are the right way to deal with potential nursing home abuse. Concerns have been raised about the rights of residents themselves, especially if they are incapable of making an informed decision about the placing of a camera in their room. In some rooms, residents may share facilities with others. Does the concern of one family about their own relative take priority over the right to privacy of the other resident sharing the same space?
Hidden videocams may be the last resort for some family members who have failed to get any serious response from nursing home management about what they suspect is ongoing abuse. Evidence of abuse is usually necessary to accompany a personal injury lawsuit against a staff member or the management of a facility, but getting hard evidence can be bvery hard without video footage.
Care workers’ unions have also voiced their concerns about placing this sort of technology in the places their members work, citing the need for trust between staff and residents which may be compromised by the use of cameras, especially if they are hidden.

Nursing homes themselves have been varied in their response to the use of cameras. Some have taken the idea on board and have installed security cameras in corridors and other public places and have also allowed family of residents to install their own as long as a notice to that effect is posted on the door of the resident’s room.

Many people who support the idea of using videocam technology argue that the very existence of monitoring technology is likely to act as a deterrent to potential abusers, whether these are staff working at the facility or other residents.

Whatever the future holds for the use of cameras in residential nursing homes, it is hard to argue that the most important element in preventing abuse is a relative or close friend of the resident who takes an active interest in their welfare. Signs of nursing home abuse are often visually obvious, either because of behavior or physical signs such as bed sores, wasting through inadequate nutrition, bruises and cuts that are not treated. Most attorneys who regularly deal with nursing home abuse cases advise suspicious family members to take up their concerns with the facility’s management first and closely monitor their relative. Any deterioration or noticeable lack of improvement should be followed up by discussing legal options with the attorney.

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