Sides debate cameras in nursing homes


LANSING — A bill to allow placement of cameras inside nursing homes is sparking controversy between legislators and the nursing home industry.

Sponsored by Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, the bill would allow a nursing home resident’s representative to monitor the resident with an electronic recording device in hopes of reducing elder abuse in the facilities.

According to a 2011 report in the “Journal of Elder Abuse and Neglect,” staff have physically abused 24.3% of a sample of adult nursing home residents in Michigan.

Among those cases, 27% were labeled as physical mistreatment, 11% as sexual abuse cases and 62% as cases of forced restraint for feeding or toileting.

“We’ve seen numerous cases in which a hidden camera has prevented or has brought out abuse in nursing homes,” said Christopher Smith of Southfield, the chair of the elder law and disability rights section of the State Bar of Michigan.

“When we see that when there’s a hidden camera, it raises the question how many instances of unreported abuse there is,” Smith said.

Through video monitoring, advocates of the bill hope to prevent instances of elder abuse like the cases of nursing home aides Cesiah Huitron and Kristen Chatman of Kent County and Cissy McGahan of Delta County who were charged last June with vulnerable adult abuse.

However, the Health Care Association of Michigan, which represents the industry, opposes the proposal.

“Placing a surveillance device in a resident’s room violates the resident’s rights to privacy and dignity that providers are required to protect and uphold under federal regulation,” said Rich Farran, the association’s vice president of government services.

Farran also voiced concerns about residents with dementia and residents’ ability to understand the notices on the doors of rooms with monitoring systems, which the bill would require.

In addition, a study by Cornell University raised a number of other questions on monitoring systems, including consent from patients with dementia and from the roommates of patients who agree to monitoring.

The study also discussed ways that recording devices may reflect mistrust toward nursing home employees and contribute to high staff turnover rates. With national turnover rates estimated at between 43 and 86 percent, facilities frequently face understaffing problems.

The bill is pending in the Senate Health Policy and Human Services Committee.

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