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A “senior” version of “nanny cams” is about to hit Illinois nursing homes.

As of Jan. 1, a new state law, the Authorized Electronic Monitoring in Long-Term Care Facilities Act allows video or audio recording devices to be placed in Illinois nursing home rooms to monitor treatment.

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“Senior cams” could range from a simple battery-operated camera that records action on a memory card to a more sophisticated Internet-connected device that allows live-streaming. Residents, or their relatives, must pick up the tab.

It’s a new option worth spotlighting and, under the law, all nursing home residents and their guardians must be informed about it within 48 hours of admission to an Illinois nursing home or skilled care rehab facility.

The move seems prudent given that Illinois racked up an average score of F in the 2014 Nursing Home Report Card handed out by Families for Better Care, a nursing home watchdog group. Illinois is expected to draw another F in the next report card, due out soon, watchdog officials say.

The law makes Illinois only the fourth state in the nation to require nursing homes to allow monitoring devices in patient rooms, according to a spokesperson for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, a key figure in the bill’s passage.

Its Illinois Senate sponsor, Terry Link (D-Waukegan), says he wished he had such an option when his mother, suffering from Alzheimer’s, was placed in a Zion nursing home about eight years ago. His mom passed away in 2000.

“This is a huge step forward,’’ said Link, whose House sponsor on the bill was Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago).

Link said his mother received fine care, but even so, today he wouldn’t hesitate to place a camera in her room. That’s especially true because, with Alzheimer’s, she could not articulate if she was having a problem.

“If I knew she’d be safe 24/7 and I’d be comfortable and she’d be comfortable, I’d do it in a heartbeat,’’ Link said.

Madigan marshaled a roundtable of stakeholders to address nursing home concerns that stymied somewhat similar Link legislation in 2007.

This time around, residents or their relatives who want such devices must foot the bill for “senior cam” installation and maintenance — not nursing homes.
To address privacy concerns, residents can request that the devices be turned off at certain times — such as during bathing or changing. Roommates must sign off on cameras, although facilities must try to find other accommodations for those with a balky roommate. And, facilities cannot retaliate against those who use such devices.

“Senior cams” are no substitute for a kiss on the cheek, a squeeze of the hand and an in-person assessment and conversation that only an on-site visit from a loved one can provide. However, they will afford relatives the ability to check on nursing home residents from a distance, to observe that they are safe, and perhaps to see if they aren’t.

Some folks have been secretly planting such devices in nursing home rooms for years. A camera that looked like an alarm clock captured workers in one Oklahoma City nursing home flinging a 96-year-old dementia resident onto her bed and stuffing a latex glove into her mouth. The case prompted Oklahoma to pass a nursing home camera law in 2013.
Brian Lee, executive director of Families for Better Care, contends any “senior cam” will merely record the “abuse and neglect” that’s been going on in Illinois for years and “beg the question — what’s next?”

The real culprit, Lee says, is the state’s staffing ratio. Illinois’ worst 2014 report card scores came in its “abysmal” number of direct care staffing hours per resident, Lee said.

If Illinois “senior cams” memorialize the need to improve that nursing home staffing ratio – and galvanize even more legislative action to address it — that would be yet another step forward.

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