New law, cameras allowed in Illinois nursing home rooms: To catch abuse or neglect, and at what cost?

A new law allowing camera monitoring in Illinois nursing homes raises some good questions.
A new law allowing camera monitoring in Illinois nursing homes raises some good questions.

Investigative news programs cover nursing homes from time to time, and sometimes the focus is on the quality of care, or lack thereof. Cases involving the abuse or neglect of elder residents lead us to ask how the family of a resident can truthfully and accurately monitor or know if their loved one truly receives good quality care. Imagine visiting your mother, father or relative who has new bruises or injuries, and they are not sure how it occurred. You could ask the staff members, but unless there is a well-documented and known injury, they might not have any good information for you. Imagine thinking the worst scenarios of abuse or neglect and not being able to get any answers. Cameras monitoring the rooms of elder patients in nursing homes can be a blessing but also a burden, depending on the situation.

There are several benefits and burdens involving the use of cameras to monitor nursing home rooms.

Illinois recently became the fourth state to allow the use of cameras in nursing homes. House Bill 2462, recently signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner, was designed in part by Illinois Attorney General, Lisa Madigan, to make sure residents in nursing homes are being  treated well.[i]

There are identifiable pros and cons of using cameras to monitor nursing home patients as well as staff. Creating a policy of rules and procedures takes time and weighing a variety of considerations. Allowing cameras as an option makes sense on a case-by-case basis. It is not likely we will see a bill imposing mandatory monitoring by cameras in nursing homes as the objections could be overwhelming.

There are several positive outcomes when cameras monitor nursing home residents and their care.

The obvious benefit of cameras is catching an individual doing something, good or bad. Observing good care is a positive reinforcing event that makes everyone feel good. However, despite the best efforts of administrations and human resource professionals, it is always possible that a caregiver will abuse or neglect a resident, on purpose or by accident. When abuse or neglect occurs in purpose, and there is a recording of the event(s), that recording can be used to support a termination or prosecution of the wrongdoing individual.

When abuse, neglect or a bad event occurs by accident, the administration and staff can make corrections and take action to improve the quality of care. Of course cameras can also be used to catch elder residents who might be acting on their own to create a dangerous situation or condition. At various stages of the end of life, there are physical and mental challenges that residents and their families must face.

Do the negative implications of cameras in nursing home rooms outweigh the benefits?

While catching an abuse or neglect situation is a compelling factor in any family or resident’s election to participate in room monitoring, the decision makers should also carefully weigh the negative implications of cameras. The invasion of privacy is a primary concern for the residents and families who already compromise on the quality of their daily life by requiring nursing home care. The invasion of privacy by being monitored around the clock might be too upsetting for some people to endure.

This begs the question of how and when monitors should be used, and whether only the nurse and resident interactions might be recorded if that is how a family might decide. The loss of dignity is also a problem, if cameras are filming assisted bathing and bathroom activities. Another problem could be the reliance on cameras to take place of human contact. If nursing home staff stop personally checking on residents they miss opportunities for personal touch and interaction, which is very important to the well being of a nursing home resident.

Michael V. Favia & Associates follows and works with nursing homes and elder healthcare clients.

As more attention is focused on the best nursing home care for residents, cameras in rooms will be a continued discussion. With an eye on nursing homes using cameras in Texas and Oklahoma, we can look forward to the benefit of experience and what is a good or bad policy or practice in monitoring nursing home residents with cameras. Michael V. Favia & Associates is a healthcare law and litigation firm with an eye on news and events that affect the healthcare industry and its consumers.

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[i], New Ill. law allows cameras in nursing homes, By Kurt Erickson, Aug 23, 2015.