There are many reasons why nursing home neglect and abuse is considered one of the worst forms of victimization that can happen at the hands of others. One obvious reason is the vulnerability of the victims, who may be infirm and completely dependent on their caretakers.
Another major reason that makes nursing home abuse cases so unique from other areas of personal injury law is that the families of the victims are often not present every minute of every day to observe how their loved one is being treated.
Medical Records Have Some Use
Many families tell stories of nursing homes putting on their best faces when families (or state investigators) visit, or providing half-truths to families that ask about their loved one’s treatment by staff.
Certainly, medical records and documents can provide some of the story. Many families find that medical records contradict what personnel may have told them happened to a loved one, or else the records document the failure to attend to loved ones even while staff insists that residents are being diligently cared for.
Medical records can be costly to attain—sometimes up to a dollar a page. Many families fear that records can be doctored, altered, or at least written in a light that portrays the nursing home staff as doing a better job than they are.
Sometimes the records may contain codes or medical terms that families do not understand (or the records may be completely illegible). Then there is the unknown question of how staff may look upon a resident whose family seems to be investigating the resident’s care and treatment.
Some Families are Turning to Cameras
That is why some families are resorting to a do-it-yourself method of making sure their loved ones are being cared for and attended to – video or surveillance cameras. Video footage can be a powerful weapon in the fight to protect residents.
Just recently, footage from a camera placed inside a 94-year-old nursing home resident’s room uncovered shocking abuse by an aide. The man is hit in the head and doused with mouthwash by the aide. Other videos showed assistants sleeping or completely ignoring alarms intended to alert them that a patient was in distress. Others show nurses ignoring a patient whose breathing tube had fallen out.
Recently cameras captured the death of a decorated war veteran who died in a New York home. As the man struggled to breathe, staff not only failed to call 911 on time, but even were caught laughing during the man’s struggle.
Legal Issues With Installing Cameras
The problem is that currently, Florida law, and some say federal law, prohibits placing cameras anywhere inside a nursing home, even by the resident’s family, and even if the resident consents.
Even if a nursing home agreed to allow cameras, it could not do so. Nursing homes that in good faith want to make sure its residents are cared for by using video surveillance are prohibited from using them.
Nursing homes have resisted any legal changes to allow or require video cameras inside their properties. They cite privacy issues of those residents who may not want to risk being videotaped during their most intimate or private moments. That can lead to legal issues where one resident may consent to a camera being placed, but a roommate may not.
Even the ability to consent is at issue; whether consent would be valid from a resident who may have cognitive impairment and may not be capable of making decisions is a murky legal issue. Because a camera could conceivably record information from any resident, it is possible that all residents would need to consent to even one resident having a camera installed.
Consent does not just extend to the residents but also to the home’s own staff. It is illegal to record audio of someone without their consent in Florida. Wiretapping laws come into play, and families that do record with audio may face ramifications by staff who had no idea they were being recorded.
Because of these legalities, any video that is currently obtained from inside of a home could be challenged by nursing home attorneys asking a court to exclude the video evidence from a trial.
Federal HIPAA laws make all information about a patient’s medical care strictly confidential. That information does not just include written medical records, but could extend to video footage of medical care, as well.
Practically, some in the industry argue that if cameras could be permitted in nursing homes, those that chose to allow it would be less enticing to qualified staff, who would be more inclined to work in homes that opted to prohibit it.
Legal Changes are Still Being Considered
Allowing cameras is still being investigated and considered by the legislature, especially after the tragedy in a Hollywood nursing home following Hurricane Irma where numerous residents died when the home was left without power. Other ideas being considered by the legislature include allowing undercover investigators from the state to investigate homes unannounced.
Fearful of lawsuits that would actually hold them accountable, it is expected that nursing homes will still oppose any of this legislation.
As visual animals, video evidence is highly persuasive to juries. Many nursing homes would lose the ability to refute a family’s version of how a loved one was injured or died while in the care of the home. Any law change allowing recording would be a powerful weapon to prevent nursing home abuse.
If you suspect a loved one if being abused or neglected in a nursing home, you need to act fast to make sure the evidence showing the abuse is preserved. Contact Brill & Rinaldi today for a free consultation if you believe that a family member may be a victim of nursing home abuse.