Nursing home reformist pushes surveillance cameras
By DAVE WHALEY, Telegraph staff writer February 24, 2001
The Telegraph/RUSS SMITH Violette King, right, founder of Nursing Home Monitors in Godfrey, explains use of a miniature camera, VCR and VCR lockbox for room surveillance at nursing homes to Grace Koehne, an organization volunteer.
GODFREY -- A nursing home care advocate is launching a pilot project to put surveillance cameras in patient rooms. Violette King, a Godfrey resident who heads up the citizens group Nursing Home Monitors, said the cameras are being offered for any families who would be willing to go to court if a nursing home took action.
"There are no laws specifically against the cameras anywhere right now," King said. "The problem is that families are afraid to use them because they fear they will be kicked out of the nursing home. We want to empower them, then try to set a precedent in court."

Although no legislation is pending in Illinois, some related bills that support King’s position are under consideration in Maryland, Texas and Florida. King testified before the Maryland legislature last month on behalf of a bill sponsored by Delegate Susan Hecht.

"We want (surveillance cameras) being included in the residents’ rights," King said. "We’re not out to catch nursing home employees doing bad things. We want to protect them and make the home a better place to live and work."

According to the General Accounting Office, more than 25 percent of the nation’s 17,000 nursing homes are so substandard that they threaten their patients’ health. King said the cameras would obviously protect the residents but would also protect a nursing home that is unjustly accused of not providing adequate care.

The nursing home industry objects to the surveillance cameras.

"Placing a camera in a room is often the action of someone looking to sue," Dr. Charles Roadman, president of the American Health Care Association, said in a statement. "Cameras can also have the effect of unduly disrupting a positive, trusting relationship between a patient and care givers."

Critics also say cameras make it even harder to attract and retain qualified workers in an industry where the work is demanding, pay is low and turnover rates high.

"The purpose of the camera is to encourage the staff to comply with the standard of care," King said. "It’s comparable to the convenience stores. It’s a record of what actually occurred."

King said many critics would say that the cameras would be available only for wealthy families. That’s one reason why Nursing Home Monitors will be offering the camera equipment free of charge as part of the pilot project. After that, the camera and VCR equipment costs about $300.

"It’s the same thing as one resident having a TV and another one not even having a radio," she said.

King said the cameras would not be imposed on anyone. Roommates would have to give their consent, and the cameras could be turned off at any time by the resident or his family for privacy reasons.

"We need a family totally committed to this project," King said. "We’re just waiting for a nursing home to try to remove them and take them to court."

For more information on the Surveillance Camera Pilot Project, contact Nursing Home Monitors at 466-3410 or (888) 801-2486.