I-Team: Illinois nursing homes unseen by cameras

May 8, 2014 (CHICAGO)

If family members believe a nursing home is hiding abuse, it isn't illegal to put a camera in their loved one's room. But the nursing home can remove the camera, or the patient. Some family members say they fear retaliation if cameras are discovered, so they don't even put them in. Some states are considering laws to allow nursing home cameras, but Illinois isn't one of them.

You can check on your pet and your home through your phone, and we all are watched every day on the streets, but there's a group that remains unseen. In 2012, fearing the worst, the family of 96-year-old nursing home resident Erytha Mayberry put a camera in her room.

"We didn't like what we saw, of course," said Doris Racher, victim's daughter.

What they caught on tape in Oklahoma changed state law there: an aide stuffing latex gloves into Mayberry's mouth and pressing on her chest. She died soon after. The nursing home aide is serving a year in jail. The video outraged the public, prompting Oklahoma to permit voluntary room surveillance cameras in long term care facilities. Only three other states have similar laws.

In west surburban Elmhurst, Rosemary Pulice wishes Illinois allowed cameras.

"I can only think about the information they could have given me about my father," said Pulice.

Pulice became a video advocate in 1991 while her father Frank, a WWII vet, deteriorated in a nursing home.

"I saw marks on his body, he had bruises, he constantly had fevers. My father's thumb was three times the actual size and was black," said Pulice.

As a member of Illinois non-profit "Nursing Home Monitors," Pulice calls on politicians to increase patients' rights. In 2003, former State Rep. Frank Aguilar says his bill died in committee from outside resistance.

"Most of it was associations, lobbyists and representatives of the nursing homes," said Aguilar.

The Healthcare Council of Illinois represents 500 nursing homes in the state and is working to pass a patient's right's bill, but cameras are not part of it.

"Privacy would remain the main concern. The State of Illinois and nursing homes in general would be wise to consider the data presented however it is untested and untried within the State of Illinois," said Alan Gaffner, Healthcare Council of Illinois.

A recent national study gave Illinois a failing grade in nursing home care, ranking it near the bottom of all states in key nursing home functions. And the Health and Human Services Department found U.S. nursing homes are dangerous places to live, stating 20 percent of patients are harmed to the point of needing medical care and some died from mistreatment.

Consider this 97-year-old nursing home resident in Texas, where in-room cameras are allowed. Both of the aides on this video were fired and charged with elderly abuse. But Minnie Graham died a month later. And here at a west suburban St. Charles nursing home in March, authorities say these two aids were caught on camera-- their own-- recording themselves hitting a 96-year-old woman, then playing the video for friends. Both were fired and await trial.

"There are voluntary surveillance for everything except nursing home residents and the reason is, they tell the truth," said Pulice.

While the nursing home industry says privacy laws are the major reason why they are against cameras in residents' rooms, other states have worked through the HIPPA issue by getting permission from patients' roommates, making sure the camera is directed only at the intended family member and using motion activated cameras.

Additional information
Nursing Home Monitors
Health Care Council of Illinois
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General report
Families for Better Care Report Card
Frank Aguilar 2003 Legislation

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