Politics & Government

Video cameras in nursing home rooms: Reassuring or intrusive?

Paul Schmid color illustration of a young hand holding the figure of an old man with a cane.
Paul Schmid color illustration of a young hand holding the figure of an old man with a cane. TNS

Placing a video camera in a nursing home room could help track the care given family members, but 24-hour-a-day surveillance also brings up loads of privacy and legal concerns.

The Senate medical affairs subcommittee voted Wednesday to adjourn debate on what some refer to as the grannycam bill, giving the bill’s advocates more time to address those concerns. The discussion before that vote set up an intriguing battle between advocates for the aged and disabled and lobbyists for the nursing home industry, which employs about 18,000 people in the state.

AARP has made the bill, S.257, one of its priorities. Video cameras can be “a tool to assist family care givers, especially care givers from other states, in checking on their loved ones,” said Coretta Bedsole, associate state director for advocacy at AARP.

The nursing home industry is flexing its considerable muscle to stop the bill or severely limit its scope. Derrick DeFino, regional director of operations at Five Star Quality Care, said “the residents’ room is their private place. They entertain guests there. Some of my residents still have romantic relationships. ... We’re not talking about just monitoring them when care’s provided, but 24-7, no matter what’s going on.”

Sen. Paul Thurmond, R-Charleston, said he introduced the bill to help reduce abuse or neglect in nursing homes. He has been frustrated by the pushback by nursing home administrators.

“Somebody should be comforted to know that their loved one is not being abused or neglected,” he said, “and those nursing homes should be comforted to know that they have a way of overcoming wrongful accusations of mistreatment.”

Thurmond compared it to equipping police vehicles with video cameras. Advocates for nursing homes begged to differ. They said many of their residents don’t want their family members to be able to watch nurses do things such as change their colostomy bag.

“This is not a police car,” said Randy Lee, a lobbyist for the nursing home industry. “People are living here. ...There are things that happened in my parents’ room that no son should see happening to his mother.”

Those in favor of the bill noted that similar laws have been passed in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico, and recent regulatory changes in Maryland allow the cameras.

The S.C. legislation would allow families at their own expense to set up the cameras in rooms, with consent from the room’s resident. The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control would be responsible for developing consent forms and procedures. The bill also would allow the captured video to be used in court proceedings, and would make it illegal to tamper with the cameras.

Members of the medical affairs committee expressed concerns about the privacy issues, especially considering how many nursing homes have two or more residents per room. After the bill was effectively tabled, subcommittee chair Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Georgetown, urged advocates on each side to meet with Thurmond and Senate staffers to see if there was a possibility for compromise.