In 2011, 78-year-old nursing home resident Esther Piskor was verbally and physically abused by staff members at a nursing home facility. A hidden camera captured the incidents — and the horrifying footage sent two staff members to jail. Cameras in nursing homes continue to regularly expose abuse, and over a dozen states have passed laws allowing them in residents’ rooms. However, many nursing homes remain opposed due to privacy concerns.
Can You Put a Camera in a Nursing Home?
It depends on the nursing home. Most facilities use security cameras to monitor common areas, parking lots, and exits. Cameras may also be installed in the residents’ rooms in some cases.
In-room cameras provide an extra layer of security for family members who may be afraid of nursing home abuse.
Not every nursing home allows these cameras, however. Nursing home administrators may not want to use them, fearing the cameras invade the privacy of staff members and other residents.
In these cases, family members might install hidden security cameras to watch over their loved ones.
There are currently no federal laws allowing the use of cameras in nursing homes, according to the medical journal Annals of Long-Term Care. However, over 25 states have either passed laws or are currently debating laws that will allow these cameras.
Should I Use Cameras in Nursing Homes?
Before deciding to use a nursing home camera, you should weigh the benefits and drawbacks.
Pros of Cameras in Nursing Homes
Cameras can catch abusers in the act and give you the proof to report nursing home abuse.
Here are some cases where a camera exposed nursing home abuse:
- In 2019, a camera caught a health care worker twisting a resident’s arm. In this case, the camera had been installed with the nursing home’s permission. The worker was not a nursing home staff member but worked for a third-party company that drew blood. The employee lost his job and now faces criminal charges.
- In 2012, hidden camera footage caught two nursing home staff members shoving a latex glove into the mouth of a 98-year-old resident in Oklahoma. As a result, Oklahoma now legally allows families to use cameras in nursing homes.
- A secret camera recorded a nursing home staff member sexually abusing a disabled resident in July 2019, according to court documents. The staff member now faces charges of second-degree rape.
Cameras can also reassure families that their loved one is being cared for. This was the case in New Jersey, where a woman used a camera to monitor her dying husband. Instead of catching abuse, she had peace of mind knowing the staff was meeting her husband’s needs.
Secret cameras can be disguised as small fans, cell phone chargers, picture frames, and more to avoid detection. Family members can set up the cameras to catch a full view of the room and make sure their loved one is safe.
Cons of Cameras in Nursing Homes
Some nursing homes resist the idea of using cameras in residents’ rooms due to privacy concerns.
Nursing home cameras may invade the privacy of:
- The resident: Some seniors may not want to have a camera monitoring their activities at all times. Depending on where the camera is set up, it could catch residents as they change, bathe, or use a bedpan.
- Their roommates: Not all nursing home facilities will have individual rooms for each resident. Nursing home cameras intended to monitor a resident could also catch roommates while they bathe or get dressed.
- The staff: According to data from the Annals of Long-Term Care, cameras may increase staff resentment and also lead to false accusations. For example, if a camera catches a staff member moving a resident’s object, it may appear that they stole it when they actually moved it off-screen.
Further, a resident can be removed from the nursing home if a camera is found and you might face charges depending on local and state laws.
What States Allow Cameras in Nursing Homes?
As of 2022, 14 states allow private cameras in nursing homes.
States that allow cameras in nursing homes include:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
Over a dozen other states are considering laws that would allow nursing home cameras in residents’ rooms, according to OZY, a publication run by former journalists.
Some states use guidelines and programs instead of laws to keep residents safe. For example, New Jersey loans out hidden cameras to families for 30-day periods if they suspect their loved one is being abused. Wisconsin has a similar program.
While all of these actions can keep residents safe, the rules vary with each state. For example, nursing homes in Maryland can deny requests for in-room cameras. Other states do not currently allow hidden cameras in nursing homes at all.
The Future of Cameras in Nursing Homes
As more laws about nursing home cameras are considered, lawmakers must strike a balance between the safety and privacy of residents.
Some laws aim to fix both problems. Esther’s Law — named and inspired after Esther Piskor — went into effect in March 2022. This law allows cameras in nursing homes with the consent of the resident (or their family) and any roommates involved.
If the roommate (or their family) does not agree to a camera, the nursing home must help the resident that wants one move to another room.
If you want a camera installed in a nursing home, consult:
- Your loved ones: Explain why you feel a camera is necessary and how it can be helpful.
- Roommates: Getting the consent of roommates and their families can help ease any privacy concerns. Explain how having a camera in the room can also protect the roommate from abuse or neglect.
- The nursing home staff: Some nursing homes may allow you to put in a camera if you ask for it. Explain your concerns and why you feel a camera is needed.
- Local law representatives: By understanding local laws, you can learn if nursing home cameras — including hidden ones — are legal to use in your state.
More laws about nursing home abuse are being debated or passed to allow cameras in long-term care facilities. As technology continues to advance (and the number of older people continues to grow), more states may allow cameras in nursing homes to keep residents safe.