Cameras in nursing homes would aid patient safety
People who bring elderly parents to a nursing home share the same worries: Will they thrive in that environment? Will they receive timely, compassionate care? Above all: Will they be safe?
Over the past two decades, Tribune reporters have documented the perils facing elderly patients in some nursing homes. From 2007 to 2010, for instance, allegations of criminal sexual assault or rape were reported in a quarter of Chicago's 119 nursing homes. Each year, the Illinois Department of Public Health fields nearly 19,000 calls and responds to more than 5,000 complaints.
Would cameras in patient rooms protect nursing home patients?
Illinois should find out.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan has proposed that the state by law allow cameras in nursing home rooms to better monitor patient care. The cameras would be installed on a voluntary basis; patients or their families would bear the costs of setting up the equipment and maintaining it. "The work that I have done ... as attorney general has unfortunately proven that too often when our loved ones are in a nursing home, they are not always safe and they are not always well cared for," Madigan said.
Installing cameras in nursing home rooms raises some privacy issues. Many elderly patients may not want to be captured on video, especially those who require help getting dressed or with other personal needs. The proposal would require a roommate's consent before a camera could be installed. Privacy concerns of staffers, visitors and others who could be on those videos also will have to be addressed.
More questions: How would a video be stored and for how long? Who would monitor a camera feed? What if an elderly patient isn't able to give informed consent for the videotaping, but family members insist?
Those are important questions to be resolved, not insurmountable obstacles to legislation. Five states — Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Maryland and Washington — allow cameras in nursing homes, according to the National Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center.
A legislative effort to install cameras in Illinois nursing homes failed in 2007. That bill would have required the nursing homes to pay to install cameras, says Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, the sponsor. Madigan's proposal to shift the cost to patients and their families should allay those concerns.
The powerful nursing home lobby could still deep-six this effort. Executive Director Pat Comstock of the Health Care Council of Illinois, the state's largest nursing care industry association, said in a statement that "we look forward to working with our elected officials in reviewing data on this issue and making sure nursing home residents are protected." Still, "privacy remains a serious concern" with any such proposal. A council representative tells us the organization won't take an official position until a bill is introduced, which will probably be next year.
Americans know they're being watched and recorded in public places, from the baby's nursery to the convenience store. As long as it's voluntary, there's no reason that monitoring should stop at the nursing home threshold, where vulnerable and fragile patients reside. Patients should have the option of a camera in the room to protect them.