The state of Illinois is potentially going Big Brother on senior citizens.
In recent news, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced a controversial new proposal that would allow video cameras and audio recording devices to be installed inside the rooms of nursing home residents. If passed, Illinois would join Washington, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Maryland as the only states to approve such a law.
This comes just two years after distressing news out of Oklahoma, where a nurse subjected a 96-year-old resident to extreme physical abuse. The woman’s family, fearing the worst after several warning signs, installed a hidden camera in her room, revealing graphic footage that ultimately confirmed their worst suspicions. The ensuing backlash prompted Oklahoma and other states to ensure the safety of residents by instituting more stringent protection laws, including the installation of video cameras as a means to prosecute.
At the heart of the matter is privacy. To what extent should a person be subjected, and or subject others, to undue levels of intrusion? It’s an endless debate, but as far as Illinois is concerned, it’s s debate worth having. The Federal government points out that one in four nursing homes in the United States are substandard, citing inadequate living arrangements and, in some cases, staff abuse. Officials estimate that Illinois alone receives 19,000 calls per year alleging abuse or neglect and responds to just 5,000.
A national study conducted in 2014 determined that Illinois ranked as one of the lowest states in the nation when it comes to nursing home functions; the state received a failing grade following inspection. Now, the proposal by Madigan would give family members greater access to the care their loved ones receive on a daily basis.
Administrators have taken issue with the statistics, as well as the proposed law, calling it “an excuse” for relatives to sue. Others, by contrast, are quick to point out mental acuity and deteriorating health issues like weight loss, dementia, and immobility, as primary reasons for wanting and needing the ability to monitor loved ones. In the past Illinois has tried to pass a similar law allowing for the installation of video cameras, only to have support falter.
Here are a few things you should know about the latest law proposal:
- It’s a work-in-progress. Madigan’s office is in currently drafting language for the bill, a measure that state Senator Terry Link supports. Link had previously sponsored a bill in 2007 with similar intentions, though that bill failed to pass. Now, however, Link anticipates little opposition given a new stipulation, which would require residents and their families to pay for them. (Link’s bill put the expense burden squarely on the state, which drew considerable criticism and opposition.)
- In a press conference, Attorney General Madigan made clear that the proposed law intends to better the quality of living for nursing home residents, not intrude upon them. “I’m not advocating for turning anyone’s personal life into a reality show,” she said candidly. Instead, the proposal aims to allow recordings from the devices to be used in court, which would also include penalties for anyone who tries to hamper or obstruct the devices.
- While legal in five other states, the practice remains untested in the state of Illinois. The Health and Human Services Department found U.S. nursing homes are dangerous places to live, noting that 20 percent of patients are harmed to the point of needing medical care. Others died as a result of mistreatment. Video cameras may be a way to prevent such abuse, but the idea poses significant hurdles beyond the obvious. For one, written consent would be necessary the installation of certain devices would require written consent from both the resident and the roommate.
- Madigan made mention of the fact that cameras have quickly become a ubiquitous part of every day life. The Chicago Sun-Times quoted Madigan as saying: “You go into a bar, you go into a restaurant, you get on the train, you’re in the grocery store, you’re in the pharmacy — everywhere you are right now there is a camera.” Everywhere may soon include nursing homes.