Recently, a federal bill meant to allow nursing home patients or their families to place a camera in the resident's room failed to pass the Senate Medical Affairs Committee. They tabled the matter, for now. But some states such as Texas and Oklahoma have already passed laws allowing certain monitoring devices, a move which will enable government officials to gather facts about the benefits, drawbacks and challenges of implementing a nationwide rule.
How do you feel about placing a camera in your parent's or spouse's nursing home room? I myself have wondered under what conditions I would think this would be a good idea. There doesn't seem to be any one answer that fits everyone.
I do want to make it clear that I personally oppose any federal legislation that would make cameras in nursing home rooms mandatory. Thankfully, I don't believe that is on the agenda. I feel that the decision should be made on a case by case basis with consideration of all factors.
Why would cameras be a good idea?
There are three reasons I can see that could lend strength to the argument for cameras in nursing home rooms:
Cameras focused on your loved one's care would allow the family to monitor care providers. Any kind of abuse and/or neglect would be recorded, and if an abuser happened to be on the staff, then he or she could be caught and terminated. There's also less chance of maltreatment happening in the first place, since awareness of the cameras could stifle the urge to abuse.
On the flip side, the family would also be able to observe the wonderful care that many staff members provide.
If the camera can also be monitored by nursing home staff, it could help in caring for agitated or restless elders who may try to get out of bed or a chair without needed assistance. This could prevent falls or at least speed up help, should one occur. Oxygen tubes and other medical equipment that may easily be dislodged could be more closely watched so that if something is disturbed the staff can rush to the room and fix the problem.
What could be negative about this extra security step?
Invasion of privacy. Many of us have been in hospital situations where it seems there's no privacy at all. Not just physical privacy but emotional privacy. For most of us, those stays are blessedly short. For people in nursing homes lack of privacy is already, by necessity, a way of life. I know that my mother would have strongly refuted the idea of being constantly monitored by a camera in her room, thereby losing even more of her privacy. Granted, there are some elders who would feel secure with such monitoring. Under those circumstances, I believe a camera should be allowed. I am suggesting, however, that for many elders this may be one step too many when it comes to their right to privacy.
Then, of course, there is dignity. People in nursing homes are not infants, no matter how helpless they are. It's humiliating enough to, as an adult, need your incontinence protection changed or to be bathed while lying in bed, without also having the process recorded on a camera. Whether or not an elder is aware of the camera, most would not appreciate their most intimate care being monitored by family members or anyone else.
Potential reliance on the camera by staff could be a problem. The staff or nursing stations may begin to rely on cameras too much and limit the physical checks where the resident may want to ask for some non-urgent assistance or simply need human contact.
Genuine friendship between the caregiver and care receiver care could be inhibited. Good caregivers make an effort to know the residents for whom they care. Knowing their backgrounds, they can ask about children and grandchildren. They can encourage the person to talk about his or her former work. They can smile and joke when appropriate, hold hands or even give hugs. Being watched by a camera could change that dynamic. There would be an awareness on the part of the caregiver that snippets of conversation without full context could be misinterpreted by people monitoring the situation. They might also experience a conscious or subconscious concern about performing the care routine "by the book," so that anyone watching can't criticize his or her job performance. Some caregivers may handle this better than others, but for many, the camera could cause them to forgo even positive interaction for fear of misinterpretation.
As mentioned earlier in the article, whether or not to install a camera depends on the situation. To me, if cameras need to be used in a nursing home, they should be used judiciously and with allowance for the feelings of the resident, when possible. In many areas of the country most nursing homes provide good and excellent care, but there's no way to be absolutely certain that abuse will never be an issue. Any facility can hire someone who is qualified on paper and charming of personality only to find out that he or she is a thief or worse, an abuser.
As with so many things in life, we must balance safety and security with privacy and personal choice. Like many who care about our elders, I'll be considering the pros and cons of cameras in nursing home rooms as time goes on. I'd never say never to such an approach.