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Criminal Justice & Legal System

Bill would give nursing home residents right to have electronic monitoring devices

Michigan Senate Republicans

A state Senate committee is considering a bill its sponsor said is intended to help prevent elder abuse in nursing homes. 

The Michigan Senate Health Policy and Human Services Committee heard opposing views at a hearing last Thursday on a subsitute for SB 77. According to the bill's sponsor, Senator Jim Runestad (R-White Lake), the Committee has not yet voted on a final version of the bill, and there still could be changes.

The bill would require nursing homes to allow a resident or their representative to use an electronic monitoring device to film the resident in their room.

The bill would require the written consent of roommates and notice of the device on the door of the resident's room, among other conditions. It would not allow audio recording. 

Under the bill, the monitoring would be completely voluntary at the election of the resident or their representative, and all costs would be paid by the resident. The nursing home would be required to make reasonable accomodation for electronic monitoring including a reasonably secure location and access to a power source. 

The bill  provides that a nursing home could not deny admission to a resident or remove a resident because of a request to install an electronic monitoring device. 

Runestad said elder abuse is a serious problem in Michigan.

"This bill, that will permit the family members to put a video camera in the room to monitor that loved one's care, is vital to make sure that they're getting the best care possible," said Runestad. 

He said it makes no sense to allow webcams at child and animal day care centers, but not give vulnerable residents of nursing homes the same option.

The Health Care Association of Michigan opposes the bill, according to Rich Farran, its Vice President of government services. Farran said HCAM represents more than 350 of the approximately 440 skilled nursing facilities in Michigan.

Farran said the bill would violate residents' right to privacy by recording their most personal, daily activities.

He said the presence of monitoring devices also could dilute the quality and frequency of visits to residents, leading to isolation. And he said a family's asking for a camera could damage trust between staff and a resident.

"The best way to ensure patient safety is to have good, well-trained, competent staff and adequate staffing levels," said Farran. 

Farran said family involvement, staff satisfaction, careful screening of employees and effective abuse prevention programs are key to promoting patient safety.

Some advocates for the elderly testified that the bill is not strong enough. 

Among other things, they called for audio as well as visual recording devices so as to protect residents from verbal abuse. And they recommended that general notices be posted throughout the nursing home stating that recording devices may be used in any resident room. They expressed concern that posting notices of electronic monitoring on doors of rooms where it is being used could shift the potential for abuse to residents without the devices.

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