A significant concern about nursing home surveillance was presented in an article by The Conversation. In their account, A woman named Lisa Papp installed a $199 webcam in her 75-year-old mother, Mary Ann’s, nursing home room.
In May 2017, the Minnesota Department of Health ruled that this nursing home surveillance was legal and that the nursing home could not remove the webcam from Papp family’s favor: The nursing home had to allow a camera in Mary Ann’s room.
The issue of nursing home surveillance is far more than an isolated issue. With over 1.3 million Americans living in nursing homes and rampant stories of nursing home neglect and abuse, more and more families are considering placing webcams in their family members’ rooms to try to ensure safety and accountability in their practices.
Though there are no concrete statistics for the number of families engaging in covert nursing home surveillance, seven states have laws that enable this practice. While the desire to attempt to guarantee a family member’s safety through surveillance is understandable, this practice does trace a delicate line between ethical and invasive.
The most obvious issue presented by nursing home surveillance is the issue of the privacy of residents. Many webcams used in nursing home surveillance are always on. With constant observation, it is assured that the camera will capture the resident washing, using a bedpan, changing undergarments, or having conversations with staff, visitors, and partners.
With this constant observation also comes issues of consent. Many state surveillance laws require consent and that can be difficult to obtain from residents when the U.S. Center for Disease Control estimates that approximately half of nursing home residents have a form of dementia and may not be able to give informed consent. In the event that a resident cannot give informed consent, their family may make the decisions instead, acting as legal proxies.
Unfortunately, the ethical rabbit hole does not end with the individual resident. Nursing homes are often shared room facilities and therefore nursing home surveillance measures will almost inevitably invade the privacy of the roommate of the surveilled resident, likely without their consent.
The issues with nursing home surveillance are many and varied, the desire to protect loved ones from neglect or abuse is understandable and there have very likely been incidents diverted by the knowledge that cameras are maintaining accountability of staff members. Going forward, this issue will continue to be a slippery slope that must be tread with caution in order to prevent the development of a nursing home culture that is oppressed by the fear of erring in the face of a camera.
For more information about neglect and the danger it poses to residents, visit the National Association of Nursing Home Attorneys’ Neglect Page.