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Nursing Home Cameras: More Harm Than Good?

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 continue to regularly expose nursing home abuse, and 10 states have passed laws allowing them in residents’ rooms. However, many nursing homes remain opposed due to privacy concerns.

Nursing Home Cameras Explained

Most nursing homes use security cameras to monitor common areas, parking lots, and exits. Cameras may also be installed in the residents’ private rooms in some cases.

In-room cameras provide an additional 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 often refuse to use them, fearing the cameras invade the privacy of staff members and residents.

In these cases, some family members install hidden security cameras to watch over their loved ones.

As of 2019, there are no federal laws mandating the use of cameras in nursing homes, according to the medical journal Annals of Long-Term Care. However, 25 states have either passed laws or are currently debating laws that will allow cameras.

Should I Use Nursing Home Cameras for My Loved One?

Before deciding to use a nursing home camera, you should weigh the benefits and drawbacks. Ultimately, this decision depends on your specific circumstances.

Pros of Nursing Home Cameras

Nursing home cameras can catch abusers in the act and give you the proof to report their actions.

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 Nursing Home Cameras

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 patient. If your senior lives with a roommate, a camera could also record them 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.

Recording also raises ethical concerns, particularly with hidden cameras. For example, if the family of your loved one’s roommate sets up a camera without your knowledge, they may have access to inappropriate footage of your loved one.

Further, depending on local laws, a resident can be removed from the nursing home if a camera is found, and you might face charges.

What States Allow Cameras in Nursing Homes?

10 states allow private cameras in nursing homes as of August 2019.

The states that allow cameras in nursing homes are: 

  • Illinois
  • Kansas
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • New Mexico
  • Oklahoma
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Washington

15 other states are considering laws that would allow nursing home cameras in rooms, according to OZY, a digital media publication run by former journalists.

Some states use guidelines and programs instead of laws to keep residents safe. For example, New Jersey allows families to loan out hidden cameras for 30-day periods if they suspect their loved one is being abused. Wisconsin has a similar program.

While all of these actions can help keep residents safe, the rules vary with each state. For example, nursing homes in Maryland can deny requests for in-room cameras. Other states, such as Missouri, do not currently allow hidden cameras in nursing homes at all.

The Future of Nursing Home Cameras

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. A proposed law in Ohio would allow cameras in nursing homes, but they would be turned off periodically (such as when the resident bathes). This helps solve both issues of privacy and safety.

If you want a camera installed in a nursing home room, you should consult: 

  • Your loved one: Explain to your loved one why you feel a camera is necessary. Make sure they know it will help them.
  • 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.

Until more laws about nursing home abuse are in place, it is crucial to weigh your loved one’s needs with local guidelines before using a camera.

Nursing Home Abuse Support Team

The Nursing Home Abuse Center (NHAC) was founded to bring justice to those affected by nursing home and elder abuse. Our mission is to educate and empower victims of abuse and their families to take a stand against this unlawful mistreatment. We work to return dignity back to those who have been broken down by nursing home abuse and neglect.

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