Growing support seen for 'granny cams,' over protests by nursing homes

Use of video surveillance to monitor the treatment of nursing home residents is gaining support across the country, despite opposition from the nursing home industry, according to the Wall Street Journal. Currently, there are no laws against the use of "granny cams"--video cameras that can be linked to the Internet for real-time monitoring or used to record residents' care on videotape. Nonetheless, the Journal reports, legislators across the country are taking action to make it easier for families to install the cameras, arguing that they may deter mistreatment of residents.

Patient protection, or privacy nightmare?

Michael Peters, an Orlando, Fla., attorney representing nursing home residents, testified at a Senate hearing Monday that the cameras could help eliminate abuse and neglect by making nursing home employees aware that they were being watched. While the Senate considers the issue at the national level, "at least a dozen" states are taking independent action, according to the Journal.

Last summer, for example, Texas enacted a law that outlined families' rights to conduct surveillance of family members in nursing facilities. Maryland also is working on the issue, developing a pilot project to employ the cameras in selected facilities. Legislation currently under consideration in Florida would authorize a similar initiative.

The nursing home industry, however, argues that the cameras represent not only a potential violation of residents' privacy but a burden on employees as well. "Adding the stress of...constant surveillance to these very demanding jobs is another reason why people would ask, 'Why do I want to do this for $7 an hour?'" said Dale Ewart, secretary-treasurer of Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union in Miami.

Some in the industry also worry that the cameras will drive up homes' insurance premiums by encouraging lawsuits. Indeed, the Journal reports that some insurers already are considering leaving markets where legislation is under consideration that would authorize use of the cameras.

Nonetheless, a few nursing homes actually are installing the cameras themselves. Cindy and Mark O'Steen, who run Southland Suites, a 36-bed assisted living facility in Lake City, Fla., say cameras help them ensure that staff members are well trained. Moreover, they say that, contrary to the industry's fears, their liability insurance premiums declined this year. Although they don't know that the reduction was due to the cameras, they did inform their insurer that they had installed the equipment (Greene, 3/7).

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