Cameras: Families like them, lawyers love them

John O'Connor
John O'Connor

Illinois may soon become the fifth state that lets families install cameras in nursing homes.

Advocates see the move as a way to help ensure peace of mind. But for many nursing homes, the development may do just the opposite. Not only are the cameras likely to catch residents and workers at the worst possible moments, they could compromise what little privacy and dignity residents have left, operators insist.

It would appear that both sides have fairly strong arguments here.

But first, the basics: Under the Facility-Electronic Monitoring measure, families would be required to pay for video equipment installation, plus related internet access costs. Cameras would need to be put in “conspicuously visible” locations. And notification signs would be required at the door of individual rooms.

The measure also mandates roommate consent, and includes an extensive approval process for roommates mentally unable to indicate approval.

Nursing homes that deny legitimate requests or retaliate against residents wishing video monitoring would face a steep fine.

Not surprisingly, operators are less than happy. One argument against the bill is that residents may require care or services that are private and confidential in nature. They also note that cameras are an expensive item for a state in the throes of a government shutdown because it can't pay its bills.

Regardless, the camera incursion in Illinois appears to be less a matter of “if” than “when.”

Attorney General Lisa Madigan backs the measure, and has said the monitoring tools will help ensure better treatment. Plus there's precedent. Four states — New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Washington — already have laws on the books making them legal.

At issue here are two valid concerns. On the one hand, cameras can help ensure resident safety, even if they only act as a deterrent. On the other hand, residents have a right to privacy and dignity. Such rights can seem like empty promises in front of a running camera.

I tend to agree with those who see the cameras as a way to help improve care. Let's face it: Daylight can be a great disinfectant. But I do have a concern that both sides are largely ignoring — the effect these cameras are likely to have on plaintiffs' attorneys.

I'm not just talking about how cameras can provide evidence of poor and negligent care. If they do, so be it.

The more insidious residue might be cameras giving rise to a modern day equivalent of ambulance chasing. By that I mean a new generation of lawyers who troll for business by constantly monitoring video feeds in search of something that might appeal to a sympathetic jury.

If there is one thing nursing facilities don't need right now, it's an avalanche of new lawsuits alleging substandard care.

Yet that is exactly what the widespread use of cameras in facilities would certainly guarantee.

John O'Connor is McKnight's Editorial Director.

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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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