For the first time, families seeking to protect their loved ones from maltreatment in nursing homes would have the right to monitor their care with electronic recording devices without fear of retaliation, under a bill proposed by Minnesota lawmakers.
The proposal would make Minnesota the sixth state to explicitly permit residents of long-term care facilities to install surveillance equipment in their private rooms. The legislation, which comes before a Senate hearing Monday and has already been dubbed the “Granny Cam Bill,” would prohibit nursing homes from retaliating against residents who choose to use electronic monitoring equipment.
It comes on the heels of several well-publicized cases in which hidden-camera footage was used to corroborate reports of abuse and neglect at Twin Cities-area nursing homes, some of which have led to criminal charges.
“No one should be treated differently because they choose to have a camera in their room,” said Sen. Alice Johnson, DFL-Blaine, the bill’s main sponsor, who said she drafted it partly in response to recent cases of abuse and neglect caught on camera.
But the legislation would also impose a new layer of reporting requirements on people who choose to install cameras, and that has elder care advocates and families worried that the bill would actually discourage the very surveillance it was designed to protect. Currently, Minnesota law is largely silent on the use of hidden cameras, and this lack of regulation is partly why the technology has proliferated, say advocates.
Modeled after a bill signed last year in Illinois, the legislation would require a nursing home resident to consent to the use of a camera before it can be installed and to notify the facility of their intent to use electronic monitoring. In addition, signs must be clearly posted notifying visitors of the devices, among other rules. In effect, the bill would end the use of “hidden” cameras in Minnesota nursing homes.
Jean Peters and Kay Bromelkamp, two sisters who have helped other Twin Cities families install cameras in senior homes since they used a camera to uncover maltreatment at their now-deceased mother’s senior home in Edina, say they oppose the bill. The sisters said many families prefer to hide the cameras because they fear retribution by caregivers.
“It’s traumatic to put a loved one in a facility, and you’re paying a ton of money for the care, and now you’re expected to notify the facility when you use a camera?” asked Peters, who plans to testify on the bill.
Suzie Haugland, of Edina, also objects to the proposed reporting requirements. This month, Haugland bought a motion-sensor camera, embedded in a digital clock, to monitor the care of her 72-year-old husband, who suffers from dementia and recently moved to the memory care unit of a senior home.
Haugland said she has no reason to suspect abuse at the home but would prefer to keep the camera hidden out of concern that caregivers might be offended and retaliate against her husband. “The government has no business interfering with my right” to use a hidden camera, Haugland said. “This looks like more protection for the nursing homes, so they know they’re being watched.”
Allegations of abuse in senior homes are notoriously difficult to prove, and hidden cameras are considered one of the few ways that families can corroborate claims by elderly relatives.
Last year, a woman who spotted cuts and bruising on her father installed hidden cameras at a large nursing home, St. Therese of New Hope. The footage showed two caregivers repeatedly punching her father in the face and stomach; it led to criminal charges against the two.
Cheryl Hennen, the state ombudsman for long-term care, said families and regulators must balance fear of patient abuse against invasion of privacy. Modern surveillance equipment now allows multiple people to watch live feeds from the same webcams, and to instantly share those video clips on social media. “Most people I know would not appreciate having their most intimate moments live-streamed into multiple households,” Hennen said. “The issue of privacy needs to be addressed.”
Hennen said she is planning to convene a meeting soon to discuss the issue and the underlying care problems. The volume of maltreatment complaints at Minnesota nursing homes has more than doubled since 2012, state records show. “We need to better understand what’s driving this,” she said.