The abuse and neglect of nursing home residents in Illinois and across the country is a serious – and growing – problem.

As the National Center on Elder Abuse reports, several studies published in recent years underscore the need to do more to protect residents from harm and improve the quality of care they receive. For instance:

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  • In one study, 44 percent of nursing home residents said they had been abused, while 95 percent said they had been neglected or observed neglect.

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  • In another study, more than 50 percent of nursing home staff members admitted to committing physical violence, mental abuse or neglect within the prior year.

A problem is that many nursing home residents who are abused or neglected cannot speak up for themselves due to their age or disability. Meanwhile, their family members may have no idea that their loved one is being mistreated.

To address this issue, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan called last September for legislation that would allow nursing home residents and their families to install audio and video monitoring equipment in the residents’ rooms.

The aim is to deter and detect nursing home abuse and neglect. Knowing their actions will be caught on camera, nursing home staff members would hopefully refrain from harming residents. And if they did mistreat a resident, the cameras could provide clear evidence for use in civil and criminal actions.

(A jury in Oklahoma, for instance, recently returned a $1.2 million verdict on behalf of a nursing home resident’s family after video showed staff members hitting the resident on the head and stuffing latex gloves in her mouth.)

On February 13, 2015, State Representative Greg Harris (D-Chicago) took up Madigan’s call by introducing a new bill, HB 2462, or “The Authorized Electronic Monitoring in Long-Term Care Facilities Act.”

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Currently, five other states – Texas, New Mexico, Maryland, Washington and Oklahoma – allow cameras in nursing homes to monitor residents’ rooms. The bill proposed in Illinois, HB 2462, builds on those states’ laws and regulations.

Under H.B. 2462, a nursing home resident would need to consent in writing to having audio and video monitoring equipment installed in his or her room. It would require filling out a consent form.

Unless the resident has affirmatively objected to the monitoring, the resident’s appointed guardian could authorize it or, if the resident is deemed by a doctor to lack the capacity to consent, the following could authorize it (in order):

  • Health care agent (as named under the Illinois Power of Attorney Act),
  • Spouse,
  • Parent or
  • Adult child (as long as the child had the waiver and consent of all other adult children).

The resident would need to pay for the equipment and its installation (including contracting with an Internet service provider). However, the nursing home could not charge the resident an “electricity fee” to keep it running. The Illinois Department of Public Health would provide $50,000 each year, by lottery selection, to help eligible residents buy and install the devices.

A nursing home could not deny admission or discharge a resident who chooses to have the monitoring equipment installed. If a nursing home discriminated or retaliated against a resident in that way, the home could be fined up to $10,000. If the home tried to prevent the monitoring, it could face a $1,000 fine.

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Additionally, under HB 2462, any person who knowingly hampers, obstructs, tampers with or destroys the electronic monitoring equipment would face a Class B misdemeanor. A person would face Class A misdemeanor or Class 4 felony charges if they were trying to conceal a criminal act.

Any images or recording captured by the equipment would be considered the personal property of the resident. The nursing home would have no right to access the recording without written consent.

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Would Cameras in Illinois Nursing Homes Violate Privacy Rights?

Some in the nursing home industry are hesitant to support the proposed legislation.

For instance, in a statement provided to ABC7 News, Pat Comstock of the Health Care Council of Illinois stated that “[p]rivacy and dignity in a health care setting are serious concerns.”

An official from the American Health Care Association told The Pew Charitable Trusts that a related concern is staff turnover due to nursing home employees seeking work “where they aren’t constantly under scrutiny.”

The Illinois bill appears to address privacy concerns by requiring:

  • Consent from the nursing home resident’s roommate(s) before any equipment is installed. The roommate can also limit the surveillance by prohibiting audio monitoring or by directing where a camera can be pointed. (If a roommate refuses to consent, the nursing home must move the resident who wants monitoring to a different room.)
  • Placement of the camera in a “conspicuously visible location” in the room. In other words, no hidden cameras or “bugs” are allowed.
  • A sign to be posted at the facility’s main entrance that clearly provides notice that “the rooms of some residents may be monitored electronically by or on behalf of the residents.”

The reality is that the need to prevent and uncover nursing home abuse and neglect is too great to ignore. If enacted, HB 2462 would appear to provide another tool that can be used by residents and their families to stop mistreatment and hold wrongdoers accountable.