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The politics of documenting nursing home abuse

Individuals admitted into New York nursing home facilities are often extremely medically and physically vulnerable. Many patients require 24-hour oversight and often rely on the skill of medical staff to assist with basic personal care. Unfortunately, a patient’s level of dependence on others can translate into nursing home abuse or neglect. As state legislatures, patients’ families and nursing home facilities address concerns over incidents of the mistreatment of patients in nursing homes, many debate the potential advantages and drawbacks of using surveillance cameras in patient rooms.

In 2012, New York state investigators were trained on how to use surveillance cameras to identify incidents of nursing home abuse. Similarly, the practice is used in Ohio and has resulted in the shutdown of one nursing home facility so far. While there is evidence to suggest that surveillance cameras can be effective in documenting incidents of abuse, the use raises ethical and legal concerns.

Given that decisions regarding medical care are often made by legal representatives of nursing home patients, many patients may not have the option or ability to agree to being surveilled. Without consent, privacy and patient rights concerns are a major issue.

Similarly, the privacy rights of skilled facility workers must be considered. Some labor unions and nursing home facilities have raised concerns that secretly monitoring employees is unacceptable. To some, the practice undermines the profession.

Experts have also noted that surveillance footage taken from cameras can be misinterpreted in some instances. For example, a combative patient may appear to be in distress when in fact the medical staff is following protocol.

For the families of many nursing home patients, however, installing surveillance cameras in their loved one’s bedroom may seem like the most practical and reliable way to ensure that they are well cared for.

Source: New York Times, “Watchful Eye in Nursing Homes,” Jan Hoffman, Nov. 18, 2013

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