Hidden Cameras and Nursing

Big brother is always watching in your day to day life.Use a parking lot?  A camera caught it.  Get some money from the ATM?  You’re on film.  Perusing the tomatoes at your local grocery store?  Yep, someone was watching. Let’s face it: cameras are everywhere.

Every cellphone is a potential movie studio, and just about everyone has a cellphone.  That doesn’t even include the mircrocameras that are capable of hiding in ordinary devices, effectively turning your common civilian into a surveillance master.

Although this modern obsession with filming has led to the capture of many common and diabolical criminals, the world of nursing has remained generally free of the controversy.  Now, however, that may be changing.

Recently, the Ohio state attorney general’s office shut down a nursing home because they had put hidden cameras into the rooms of consenting patients.  Of course, they only had the best interests of the patients in mind, but this action begs the question: are cameras ever okay in a nursing environment?

Pros of Cameras in Nursing

Part of the reason this even became an issue was because of the high incidence of abuse in this particular nursing home.  In the last year, the Ohio state attorney general’s office fielded 131 cases of abuse or neglect. That’s just one state.

According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, a study conducted in 2000 interviewed 2,000 nursing home residents.  It was found that 44 percent revealed they had been a victim of abuse, while 95 percent had witnessed another resident suffer mistreatment.

Many facilities across the country have taken to installing hidden cameras in the rooms of residents who show signs of abuse.  Legally, the nursing homes obtain consent from the resident being filmed to allow for the taping.
“The cameras could potentially make it easy for a nurse to get fired for minor offences.”
In fact, many of the cameras that have been installed have witnessed abuse.  Patients have been verbally assaulted, physically attacked, and demeaned on camera.  The value of this type of surveillance can’t be ignored.

What’s more, some family members are leaving small cameras in nursing home rooms.  With evidence, they can leverage the management of the nursing home to remove the abusing staff member.

Cons of Cameras in Nursing

Cameras can help those in charge find the staff members who are abusing patients, but the inclusion of cameras in patient rooms opens up the possibility misuse of the footage.  Nearly 50 percent of long term care workers admitted to patient abuse in the prior year, particularly in the area of neglect, according to a 2010 study.

The cameras could potentially make it easy for a nurse to get fired for minor offences.  It could lead to targeting troublesome workers, perhaps in retaliation for whistleblowing on the neglect in the facility, and these nurses could lose their jobs.

Nursing home abuse and neglect is often not a function of inherently offensive staff members but of the lack of staff, the pressures of the job, or the stress of a demented patient.

This is not to say that abuse is ever okay, but where is the line of abuse and neglect drawn?  Who will be watching these videos and determining that a nurse was abusive?  What else will they look for in these videos and use against employees?

The privacy of the residents should not be ignored, either.  Often, the procedures, treatment, and care provided in the safety of the rooms are intensely private.

Some patients, once proud and reserved adults, have their most intimate needs cared for by another in a nursing home.  With the inclusion of cameras, these daily functions are relegated to tape, to be watched and evaluated.

If these adults could speak for themselves, many would not want their toileting filmed, no matter how much it helped.  HIPPA is another concern, in addition to many patient privacy and rights laws.

Asking patients to give up their privacy to catch poorly chosen employees puts the burden of abuse on the patient.  Better hiring practices, adequate staffing, and an atmosphere of compassion would decrease abuse and still protect the privacy of the patient.

Looking to the Future

Unfortunately, cameras are the wave of the future in nursing.  If the nursing homes aren’t installing them in resident rooms, you can be sure that a family member would not hesitate to place one secretly.

They have a valid point: most nursing home residents are vulnerable, powerless, and completely at the mercy of staff.  If a camera would confirm suspicions of abuse, most people would take the chance with a hidden camera to protect their loved ones.

As this technology becomes more and more prevalent in nursing, the profession will have to strongly weigh in as patient advocates and the voice for working nurses everywhere.