Privacy and Nursing Home Surveillance

In recent months, with revelations concerning consumer credit card theft and the National Security Agency surveillance programs, the notion of privacy has again entered the public consciousness. Now seems like a good time to discuss the debate that continues over privacy and surveillance in the world of long-term care facilities. Unfortunately, abuse and neglect occur far too often in nursing homes and assisted living facilities and, in an attempt to protect loved ones, families are turning to technology. Small, sometimes hidden, cameras, often referred to as “granny cams,” are becoming increasingly popular as families and governments seek to ensure proper care.

In a New York Times article last November, Jan Hoffman recounts the story of a nursing home resident, Eryetha Mayberry, from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Ms. Mayberry and her family had noticed a few personal belongings go missing and installed a hidden camera in an attempt to catch a thief. When Ms. Mayberry’s daughter finally watched the footage, however, she was astonished and horrified by what she discovered. Staff members had been abusing her mother.

As a result of the outrage that arose following the discovery of Ms. Mayberry’s abuse, Oklahoma became the third state to explicitly allow surveillance cameras to be used in the rooms of residents of long-term care facilities. New Mexico and Texas are the other two states that have passed similar legislation. Although New York has passed no specific legislation allowing individuals to maintain surveillance cameras in their rooms, the government, specifically Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, has been using hidden cameras in nursing home investigations throughout the state.

In March of 2010, then-Attorney General Cuomo reported that 22 arrests had been made after investigations into Northwoods Rehabilitation and Extended Care Facility in Troy, NY and Williamsville Suburban Nursing Home in Amherst, NY. Surveillance footage played key roles in both investigations, revealing instances of alleged neglect and conduct endangering residents.

Proponents of video cameras understand that, without surveillance, much of the abuse and neglect that is occurring may never be discovered. In addition to uncovering instances of mistreatment, many hope that cameras, coupled with posted notices of surveillance, will prevent abuse and neglect from occurring in the first place.

However, nursing home surveillance has encountered opposition. Opponents claim that these cameras are an invasion of privacy. A frequently used argument against the use of cameras is that the monitoring infringes not only on the rights of a loved one, but also the rights of fellow residents. Cameras may catch residents during their most intimate moments, such as when they are dressing or undressing. Some nursing home operators also believe surveillance may reduce staff morale, claiming that it may become more difficult to hire and retain caretakers if they constantly feel threatened by the monitoring of video cameras (CNA’s Cost and Benefits of Video Surveillance).

These arguments against video monitoring may be valid. But is slightly less privacy worth the potential reduction in abuse and neglect, along with the peace of mind gained by residents and their families? With the right rules and regulations, I think so.

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