Should Residents in Nursing Homes Be Allowed to Use Surveillance Cameras?

Digital cameras and the images they produce seem to have become a ubiquitous part of life. Businesses often install cameras to watch employees, provide security, and prevent crime. Law enforcement officers have cameras mounted in their cars and on their bodies to protect both themselves and members of the public. Ordinary citizens sometimes put dash cams in their cars and cameras in and around their homes. And now that almost every mobile phone contains a camera, ordinary people often capture extraordinary events which we later see played on the evening news.

But in some cases, the use of cameras is more controversial. Privacy concerns and other legal considerations can result in restrictions or prohibitions on the use of cameras.

In this article, we’ll consider whether patients in nursing homes should be allowed to use surveillance cameras.

Why Would Anyone Want a Surveillance Camera in a Nursing Home?

With the elderly population in America larger than ever before, it stands to reason that the number of people residing in nursing homes has also increased.

At first blush, one might wonder why anyone would advocate for placing a camera in a resident’s room. After all, great privacy issues can arise. Some nursing home residents need assistance with almost all aspects of life. Therefore, a camera could capture residents dressing, bathing, or even using the restroom. In other instances, residents who need less assistance may have private relationships they do not want monitored. Finally, not all nursing home residents live alone – some have roommates. Therefore, the issue of privacy for the roommate also arises.

Notwithstanding these concerns, there are reasons that residents or their families sometimes want cameras to be present. In the case of elderly patients, some families fear that their loved one is being mistreated or neglected.

Such concerns can be warranted. According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), approximately 10 percent of Americans 60 or older have endured some type of elder abuse, with some estimating that as many as 5 million elderly are abused every year. The NCOA further reports that elderly people who have suffered abuse have a whopping 300 percent greater chance of dying than those who have not suffered abuse. Similarly, there are many unfortunate stories of residents being neglected.

Legal Concerns

The federal government does not regulate the use of cameras in nursing homes. Thus, each state may regulate the area as it deems appropriate. Only a handful of states have enacted laws that deal specifically with cameras in nursing homes. Oregon is not one of them.

However, most states do have laws that sometimes limit the recording of video or audio (for example, see Oregon Revised Statutes Section 165.540). Moreover, nursing homes and other facilities sometimes have contractual provisions with their residents regarding the permissibility of cameras or recording devices.

Notwithstanding the fact that many people want cameras, there are competing interests which must be balanced. For example, what if a patient has dementia and cannot truly consent? Or what if a family of an elderly resident wants a camera, and the resident does not?

If a camera is allowed, should residents be able to conceal it, or should there be a requirement that it be made obvious? And, of course, we previously discussed very serious privacy concerns for both residents and their roommates. These are the types of issues with which lawmakers have grappled.

Call with Questions

There are few populations more vulnerable than our elderly citizens. It is incumbent on all of us to protect them as best we can. At Nelson MacNeil Rayfield, we believe that the legal system is an important part of providing that protection. Our experienced elder abuse lawyers will be happy to assist you in any way we can.


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