A wave of new bills about camera regulations in assisted living settings is bringing privacy issues to a head as technology increasingly tracks data and monitors resident in the senior housing industry.
While five states have implemented monitoring regulations within skilled nursing settings, two other states are looking to spread these laws into assisted living and other long-term care facilities.
These laws have been prompted by many family members that have sought increased accountability and protection for loved ones within skilled nursing facilities. Over the years, videos surfacing of elder abuse or thefts have influenced people to take protection into their own hands with camera monitoring, Jason Lundy, a lawyer who specializes in senior housing, health care and fraud and abuse with Chicago-based law firm Polsinelli, told Senior Housing News.
While the bills allow cameras only if residents request them, assisted living industry groups have voice their concerns over camera-related regulations. National trade association Argentum (formerly the Assisted Living Federation of America) has even gone so far to make the issue a top policy priority. However, the laws could also have several positive effects by clearing up uncertainty and regulating actions that are already being practiced, according to Lundy.
Granny Cams Sweep the States
The bills are aimed to protect families that want increased monitoring for their loved ones and increase accountability among caregivers. Just a couple years ago, The Atlantic called this style of monitoring a “big-brother model,” arguing that round-the-clock observations have to balance a fine line between securing health outcomes and being intrusive. However, the five states that have passed camera monitoring laws for nursing homes—Texas, New Mexico, Washington, Oklahoma and Illinois—each have a consent process, and cameras are only installed and utilized if residents or families want them.
Rather than creating a new environment of intrusive monitoring, the laws that are coming through state legislations are more or less catching up to the reality in these care settings, Lundy said.
“Certainly the cameras are already there,” he explained, “Anybody who is walking around—a staff member, visitor or family member—if you walk in with an iPhone, you have a video camera in your pocket. These laws formalize the process a bit more.”
Camera monitoring laws, like one that was recently approved by Utah lawmakers, expressly permits these cameras in resident rooms at a family’s request with some standards to ensure other residents are protected as well. All states with these laws require written permission from roommates to consent to be monitored by cameras.
Two more states are pushing ahead with camera monitoring laws within assisted living. The Utah bill, House Bill 124, also prohibits any assisted living facility from retaliating against a resident, either through sanctions or discharge from the facility, for utilizing a camera or other recording devices under certain conditions.
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Missouri has also taken a stance on the issue with the Authorized Electronic Monitoring in Long-Term Care Facilities Act. The bill was first read at the start of 2016, and could become effective as soon as August should lawmakers act on it. Unlike the legislation in Utah, the bill would authorize camera monitoring across all long-term care facilities, including assisted living and nursing homes.
Out of the Gray Zone
States that don’t have regulations yet may experience a bit of a gray area when it comes to cameras. For example, a nursing home could say no to a family that wants additional monitoring for their loved one.
“Putting these laws on the books can eliminate some of the tension of there being no law,” Lundy said. “It recognizes that technology is present and put some safeguards on it that are reasonable parameters for its use.”
But assisted living providers shouldn’t worry about rising expense related to these laws. Across all the states that have enacted regulations on this issue, paying for installation, maintenance and connection to an Internet hookup are all passed on to the resident or family.
“So far the laws are pretty universal that any recording is at the expense of the resident and family,” Lundy said. “They have to buy the camera, arrange for installation and maintenance. If it is a webcam that transmits over WiFi, then the family would have to contract with a provider to do the streaming.”
The process for families of residents is costly, but some may feel more secure knowing there is an additional layer of monitoring for a loved one.
However, there are still some questions about how recordings can be saved and utilized legally, such as in a court of law.
Answers may soon be coming for the states awaiting final ruling on the regulations. Following its approval in the state House of Representatives, the Utah bill awaits Governor Gary Herbert’s signature in the coming weeks. The bill in Missouri is still currently sitting in the state legislature.
Written by Amy Baxter