DustyBy: Dusty Darr, Associate State Director for Advocacy

AARP Oklahoma

I recall many instances from my childhood when I witnessed my grandparents lovingly quarrel back and forth.  These lighthearted banters typically revolved around neglected household chores, alleged overspending or the choice of television programing. The one thing I remember most about these dialogues, however, is that the victor in the issue at hand typically ended his or her argument by saying: “If you keep this up, I’ll have no choice but to send you to the nursing home.”

While I realized even then that my grandparents were simply engaging in playful arguments, the reality is that the idea of being sent to a nursing home carries a serious tone and frankly– undesirable consequences.  As people age, many become increasingly fearful of being sent to reside in a nursing home or similar long-term care facility. The reasons for these fears are numerous and wide-ranging, but we all realize that no one wants to lose their independence.

Arguably, the greatest reason folks fear being sent to a nursing home is that they fear losing adequate contact with loved ones and being subjected to mistreatment. After all, reports of widespread abuse, neglect and the theft of personal items in nursing homes are all too common.  Aside from the multitude of media reports, many of us have had a loved one or know someone who has had a loved one subjected to nursing home abuse or neglect.

Family members or caretakers often suspect mistreatment when they begin noticing unexplainable bruises or missing personal items.  As a result, many elect to place hidden cameras in their loved one’s room in the hopes of gaining an explanation.  And often times, what the camera reveals can be heartbreaking and unimaginable. A simple “Google” search will turn up countless media reports from across the nation of hidden cameras revealing severe abuse and neglect at the hands of nursing home staff– or even other residents.

Just last year, footage taken by a hidden camera in an Oklahoma City nursing home revealed two nursing assistants terribly abusing a 96-year-old resident suffering from dementia. Oklahoma’s most frail and vulnerable citizens– nursing home residents– deserve better! While we all agree that preventing abuse and neglect before it happens is our paramount objective, footage taken by video cameras can assist families in monitoring what happens behind a nursing home resident’s closed door.  Aside from potentially revealing abuse, video cameras can also assist family members in monitoring the overall quality of care that their loved one receives on a day-to-day basis and provide faraway family members or friends with an opportunity to have virtual visitations.

Yet, despite the proven value of electronic monitoring, some Oklahoma nursing homes currently prohibit the use of video cameras in their facilities.  However, thanks to a new state law– Senate Bill 587– Oklahoma’s nursing home residents and their representatives now have a clear legal right to install electronic monitoring devices in their rooms.

This crucial legislation– authored by Senator Ron Justice (R-Chickasha) and Representative Harold Wright (R-Weatherford) and recently signed into law by Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin– also prohibits Oklahoma nursing home facilities from denying admittance to or attempting to move or retaliate against a resident that desires to have a private video surveillance camera installed in his or her own room.  In addition, footage recorded by such devices can be admissible as evidence in criminal or civil proceedings and administrative hearings in accordance with the rules of evidence.

Among other provisions, Senate Bill 587:

  • Safeguards the privacy rights of residents in shared rooms by requiring the consent of all residents in a room prior to the commencement of surveillance;
  • Requires nursing facilities to accommodate a room change so that a resident desiring video surveillance may exercise their right should their roommate not consent to monitoring;
  • Requires nursing facilities to post signage at all main entrances clearly stating that electronic monitoring and audio devices may be used by residents or their representatives; and
  • Imposes significant penalties for intentionally hampering, obstructing, tampering with or destroying electronic monitoring devices or the footage recorded by such devices.

 

Unfortunately, many instances of abuse and neglect are never captured on camera and countless Oklahoma families simply do not know what goes on behind their loved one’s closed door; however, Senate Bill 587 now gives residents and their loved ones clearly defined rights that will assist them in detecting and preventing abuse and neglect.

Senate Bill 587 is a great first-step in the right direction toward strengthening the rights of Oklahoma’s nursing home residents and will hopefully provide countless residents and their families with additional safeguards and peace of mind.  AARP Oklahoma has long advocated for increased protections for Oklahoma’s long-term care residents and we were honored to endorse this common-sense legislation and to aggressively advocate for the passage and enactment of Senate Bill 587.  We commend Senator Justice, Representative Wright and Governor Fallin for their support of Senate Bill 587 and the countless aging advocates that worked to secure passage and enactment of this legislation.