|Photos of Esther Piskor in her older and younger years. Senate Bill 58, Esther’s Law, would allow in-room cameras at nursing facilities. Piskor son caught abuse of his mother on a hidden camera. (Courtesy Steve Piskor)|
By Laura Hancock
COLUMBUS, Ohio — A bill making its way through the Ohio General Assembly would allow nursing home residents or their guardians to install a camera in their rooms.
The bipartisan-sponsored Senate Bill 58, also called Esther’s Law, is the farthest the measure has ever advanced in the legislative process, having passed in the Ohio Senate unanimously on May 19 and now up for its third hearing in a House committee meeting on Thursday.
The bill takes its name from Esther Piskor, a resident of a Cleveland nursing home. Cameras placed in her room by her family revealed that nurses’ aides abused her, later leading to their arrest and criminal convictions related to the abuse.
For nearly a decade, the Ohio General Assembly considered measures that would allow in-room cameras to catch neglect or abuse, observers said. The coronavirus pandemic underscored a need for heightened remote access to loved ones in nursing homes, especially when the spread of the virus kept families and their loved ones apart.
“Esther’s Law is a problem-solver to the COVID issue,” her son Steve Piskor said. “Family members can see their loved ones instead of peering through a window.”
A handful of other states, such as Illinois, Kansas and Minnesota, allow families to install cameras in nursing homes, said sponsor Sen. Nickie Antonio, a Lakewood Democrat.
In Ohio, “the law was silent. It didn’t say anything one way or the other. Some facilities said you’re not allowed to do it, but there was nothing saying that in the law,” she said.
Ten years ago, Esther Piskor of Cleveland was in a nursing home with dementia. She used a wheelchair and needed direct care since she couldn’t do many tasks for herself. She wasn’t talkative but could answer short questions, her son said.
“When I’d go there, I’d say, ‘Are you OK?’” he said. “Some days she’d say, ‘Yes.’ Some days she’d say, ‘No.’”
He’d ask her if she was eating, and sometimes she indicated she was not.
Steve Piskor grew suspicious that someone in the home was abusing his mother. He installed an old camera in his mom’s room, but nursing home aides complained it violated their privacy, he said. He said he tried arguing that employees didn’t have privacy rights in his mother’s room, but the nursing home administrator allowed employees to cover it.
“So that prompted me to put a hidden camera in,” he said.
Footage showed an aide roughly lifting his mother out of her wheelchair by her arms and throwing her into the bed. Then, in a separate incident, they dropped her into her wheelchair. Steve Piskor said the way they flung his mother’s body around was hard to watch and is against the protocols of how you lift and carry a resident’s body.
One day, when visiting his mom, Steve Piskor said the room was cold. The heat was on, but the window was wide open. He said it was 20 degrees outside.
He said he had other footage showing aides spritzing room or body spray into his mother’s face, which helped explain her eye irritation. He said the aides yelled at his mother, and another threw a gown over her face.
“You can’t do that to a dementia person. They don’t have any clue what’s going on,” he said.
In 2011, Esther Piskor was about 5 feet tall and weighed 100 pounds.
“They easily could have killed her,” he said.
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office investigated the case and referred it to the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office.
In November 2011, Virgen Caraballo pleaded guilty to seven counts of patient abuse, fourth-degree felonies. A judge sentenced her to 10 1/2 years in prison, but she was released after 7 1/2 years with the condition that she enter a rehab program and not have contact with the elderly.
As part of her plea, Caraballo relinquished her State Tested Nursing Aid Certification and can’t work in a facility that receives Medicaid.
Another nurse’s aide, Maria Karban, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and was sentenced to 6 months in jail.
Other aspects of the bill
Under SB 58, the resident, their guardian or attorney would be responsible for the costs of installing, maintaining and removing the camera. They would also have to pay for wifi unless the nursing home had free wifi.
Antonio, the bill’s sponsor, said that she reached out to stakeholders, including nursing home groups, to make the bill acceptable. Another measure called Esther’s Law, House Bill 78, is in the House but has only received one committee hearing and doesn’t have the amendments in the Senate version of the bill.
The Ohio Health Care Association, the largest long-term care association in the state with over 1,000 members, is neither an opponent nor proponent of the bill.
Leading Age Ohio, which represents 400 facilities, is also not taking a position on the bill. Its Chief Policy Officer Susan Wallace said she managed to get some changes to the Senate bill, such as addressing a resident who has a roommate who does not consent to being filmed. Under the bill, the nursing home must make a reasonable attempt to accommodate the resident by moving the resident or roommate to another available room.
are ubiquitous these days. Many providers are using remote monitoring,
for health reasons, which is not too different (than cameras,)” she
said. “This year with COVID, we are not surprised this bill has the
extra energy than it has had in the past.”