Sunday, May 28, 2017

Minnesota Surveillance Camera Ruling a Victory for Nursing Home Residents

Early this year, an inexplicable blister developed on the heel of Mary Ann Papp’s foot — the size of a baseball and a shade of purplish red.

It appeared to be a serious infection, but Papp’s daughter, Lisa Papp-Richards, said the Bemidji nursing home where her 75-year-old mother lived was unable to provide a clear explanation. Papp-Richards said she grew more concerned after she discovered what she thought was a puddle of urine on the floor beneath her mother’s wheelchair.

So Papp-Richards, 49, a day-care worker and mother of two young children, did what a growing number of Minnesota families are doing: She installed a surveillance camera in her mother’s room to monitor her daily care.

To her surprise, staff at Neilson Place objected — even covering the camera with a towel on some occasions or unplugging it. Eventually the family filed a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Health, and even though the home said it tried to resolve the dispute, the agency last week issued a far-reaching ruling in favor of the family.

The maltreatment finding is significant because it is considered the first of its kind to affirm, in clear language, the right of a Minnesota senior home resident to use a camera in a private room without fear of harassment. It also comes at a time when state health regulators have publicly acknowledged they are failing to keep pace with a dramatic, sevenfold increase in maltreatment complaints since 2010.

With state health inspectors overwhelmed by maltreatment complaints, the tiny cameras have become an important tool for families who suspect abuse or neglect but feel nursing home authorities dismiss their concerns.

Yet the cameras — small enough to fit inside a potted plant or a stuffed doll — have become a major point of controversy. Relatives who install the devices at times face intimidation by nursing home staff, and conflicting guidance on whether such surveillance is even legal without the facility’s consent. State law is murky on the matter, even as hidden camera footage has become increasingly useful for law enforcement officers and regulators investigating allegations of criminal abuse.

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