Nursing Home ‘Granny Cams’ Pose Ethical Dilemma
The prospect of posting security cameras in nursing homes is raising issues pitting crime prevention and making certain that residents are getting top care against ensuring residents’ privacy and consent.
“Lots of ethical issues are at play, and it raises the question of privacy’s role in our lives,” said Clara Berridge, an assistant professor of social work at the University of Washington in Seattle in Futurity.
The Futurity website provides information about research done by dozens of colleges such as Yale University, Stanford University and the University of Melbourne in Australia.
Reports of crimes against nursing home residents make it understandable that families would want to protect parents and other loved ones and establish accountability for care. That’s especially true for nursing home residents with dementia because they are less likely to be able to report abuse.
The issues were addressed in a study Berridge led that was published in February 2019.
Addressing issues with security cameras
Researchers said this is a critical time to address these issues in America. The reasons for that are a combination of an aging population, intensifying strain on the care workforce and ease of access to — and hacking of — internet-connected cameras, according to an abstract of the study.
As part of that study, researchers working with Brown University sent an anonymous survey to nursing homes across the country. Representatives of over 270 facilities in 39 states responded to the survey on the use of security cameras in nursing homes.
In the survey, 11 percent had begun using security cameras in nursing homes. Most respondents cited privacy and dignity of residents as key disadvantages to security cameras in nursing homes.
Surveillance cameras are a double-edged sword. Security cameras in nursing homes capture all of the activity that occurs in the cameras’ scope. That means the cameras can record a theft or case of poorly provided care, deter abuse, inform nursing home staff about a resident’s needs and generally help staff improve. Security cameras in nursing homes also mean that residents’ personal moments, such as performing personal hygiene tasks or getting dressed, are recorded.
Moments of hygiene and dressing are when nursing home residents are most vulnerable to a crime or faulty care, but they’re also when a resident might not want such footage recorded, let alone viewed.
The rights of a roommate also come into play in considering security cameras in nursing homes. Most residents in these facilities have a roommate. Berridge said protecting a roommate’s privacy with a security camera in a nursing home room would be difficult, especially if the camera picks up audio.
State laws that researchers reviewed failed to cover issues like moving or covering a camera in certain situations.
Another issue that needs more attention is that the owner of a security camera in a nursing home is legally responsible for the footage the camera captures. That means establishing security to keep the camera feed private is important, but Berridge said that step is often overlooked.
Crimes like nursing home staffers stealing from residents or residents pocketing belongings of other residents have been reported for years. Some law enforcement officials have said cameras are invaluable in catching culprits in such cases.
While the devices can provide comfort, Berridge said cameras aren’t the answer. She said improvements in nursing homes will come with reforms like ensuring that the facilities have sufficient staff and that they are paid a living wage.
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