Families Turn to Hidden Cameras to Uncover Nursing Home Abuse

A recent article in the New York Times covers the growing use of some high technology in curtailing nursing home abuse: hidden cameras.

Reporter Jan Hoffman tells the story of 96-year-old Eryetha Mayberry, an Oklahoma City nursing home resident with dementia. Mayberry’s daughter, Doris Racher, noticed that a few of her mother’s belongings had gone missing from her room at the nursing home. She thought it might be another resident with dementia who often wandered into Mayberry’s room.

Racher bought a tiny hidden camera disguised as an alarm clock and placed it on her mother’s nightstand. No further thefts occurred for some weeks, and Racher nearly forgot about the camera. But she eventually decided to go through the recordings anyway. What she saw shocked her.

A nursing home aide was seen stuffing latex gloves into Mayberry’s mouth while another teased her, tapping on her head and laughing at her. They hoisted her from her wheelchair and flung her on the bed, whereupon one gave her rough chest compressions, Hoffman reports. Mayberry died soon after.

In the wake of that incident, on November 1, 2012, Oklahoma became the third state – following Texas and New Mexico – to explicitly allow residents in long-term care facilities to place surveillance cameras in their rooms. In the past two years, lawmakers in at least five states have proposed similar laws.

Most such efforts have been stymied by concerns of privacy rights raised by employee unions and facility owners, but families of residents nevertheless are using the so-called “granny cams” in increasing numbers.

Even government agencies are using them. The New York state attorney general’s office has used the cameras for years in patient neglect and abuse cases. The office recently demonstrated its methods to investigators from other states at a national conference.

In June, 2012, Ohio state attorney general Mike DeWine announced that cameras had been placed in residents’ rooms – with permission from their families – at unspecified facilities throughout the state. DeWine has since moved to shutter a facility in Zanesville, where he says cameras caught an aide repeatedly leaving food beside a resident who was completely unable to feed himself.

But surveillance raises legal and ethical questions. For instance, residents often have roommates, who have the right not to be monitored. Maryland law says cameras must be fixed and pointed directly at the intended resident. Facilities that permit cameras often require families who use them to post a notice to that effect on the resident’s door.

A family’s decision to place a camera in their loved one’s room must be weighed carefully, but in all cases, families should watch carefully for signs of abuse.