Camera bill delayed

Published 5:50 pm Saturday, March 5, 2016

The gears of state government grind slowly, as Jane Casey has learned since 2013.

That’s when she first went to then-Sen. Harry Blevins and proposed a law that she feels will protect residents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities from neglect or mistreatment. She did so after having a poor experience with her mother at a Suffolk facility, Lake Prince Woods.

Three years later, the bill that would require facilities to allow audiovisual monitoring still hasn’t been passed, and it won’t happen in this General Assembly session, either. But it looks like the goal might eventually be accomplished through guidelines from the State Board of Health.

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“We’re sort of back where we were three years ago, but not quite, because I think the guidelines are very close to being written,” Casey said.

Her ordeal started in 2010, when she moved her mother into the dementia unit at Lake Prince Woods. Her mother had insisted on not living with any of her children, Casey said.

But over time, Casey became concerned about the care her mother was receiving.

“It became apparent there were some gaps in her care, so I put in a camera,” Casey said.

What she saw when she reviewed the footage was even more alarming than she’d suspected.

“There was one night nobody checked on her from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.,” Casey said.

Her mother was left on the toilet for extended periods of time, she added.

“She couldn’t find a call button if her life depended on it,” she said.

Staff would dress her mother without speaking a word to her. One time, a staff member took her mother’s hairbrush out into the lobby, presumably to use it on another resident.

When she took her concerns to management and they asked how she knew of the problems, she admitted to having the camera. They told her she had to remove it.

“We started getting mother ready to move out of there,” Casey said. She and her husband, Herb Haskin, built a house on their property, where her mother lived for about three years.

Casey turned her focus toward changing the law about cameras in nursing homes to protect others from suffering as her mom did. She doesn’t want facilities to be able to refuse the presence of a camera.

“It’s in the best interest of all of us, because we’re all going to be there,” Casey said. “Everybody is in the same boat. We’re either going to have other family members or ourselves fighting the fight.”

Casey questioned why kennels have cameras for dog owners to keep an eye on their pups while they’re away, but it’s not allowed for human family members.

“We treat our dogs better than we treat our mothers,” she said.

As originally filed by Sen. John Cosgrove, this year’s bill stated that no nursing facility could refuse a request for electronic monitoring of a room made by a resident or, in the case of a resident not capable of making an informed decision, his authorized representative.

It was then changed to only residents with private rooms, and the audiovisual monitoring had to be paid for by the resident or his family.

But a committee substitute simply orders the State Board of Health to promulgate regulations by July 2017 regarding audiovisual recording of residents in nursing facilities. A workgroup is set to make recommendations by December 2016. There are a number of things to work out, such as whether to require the permission of roommates and whether to require a posted notice that the room is under surveillance.

“Our elderly folks are the most easily preyed upon,” Cosgrove said. “We need to make sure there are eyes and ears around so their families and their loved ones can be assured they’re being taken care of properly.”

Cosgrove said the bill was “basically put off for a year” because the State Board of Health is currently working on regulations that address the issue.

“If it’s everything I need, I’ll be fine,” he said.

Casey also believes health care staff need to be trained better and paid better so more quality people will do the job. But until then, cameras may be needed.

“I think we need to work on both fronts,” she said.