Lawmakers in the Illinois House of Representatives have passed a proposal made by Attorney General Lisa Madigan that families of nursing home residents be allowed to place recording devices in the rooms of their loved ones. The legislation was prompted by complaints of negligence, and these are backed up by recent findings.
A nursing home resident advocacy group, Families for Better Care, has produced nursing home report cards that gauge nursing home quality on a state-by-state case. Illinois received a failing grade from the group in 2013, and again in 2014. Its nursing homes are among the worst in the nation in many areas, including percentage of facilities with severe deficiencies and the low direct care staffing hours per resident. Experts show that inadequate staffing is a primary cause of neglect and abuse. Chicago personal injury lawyers believe that every nursing home resident has the right to quality care.
Symptoms of abuse
Even family members who are able to visit every day are not always able to detect abuse, but when the loved one is not nearby, family must rely on professionals to identify warning signs of abuse. These often include the following:
- Unexplained bruises, cuts or sores
- Sudden weight loss or gain
- Poor hygiene
- Physical or emotional withdrawal
- Disappearance of personal items
The National Center on Elderly Abuse reports that warning signs of abuse are often missed because of a lack of training on the detection of abuse. The elderly themselves may not be willing to report abuse due to a fear of retaliation, or they may be unable to report because of a lack of physical or cognitive ability. It is these residents that the bill is intended to protect.
Overworked and short-staffed
When the threat of abuse stems from their caretakers, residents may not have anywhere to turn for safety. One of the sources of elder abuse is a chronic level of understaffing, according to elder abuse experts at Families for Better Care. In this field, the work is demanding, the turnover is high, and the pay is notoriously low. Those who oppose the use of hidden cameras believe that qualified staff will be more difficult to find and retain in the face of constant surveillance.
In states where family members are allowed to place hidden cameras in rooms, such as Oklahoma, nursing home staff has been caught abusing residents. In the case of a 96-year-old woman residing in a nursing home there, a staff member was recorded stuffing latex gloves in the resident’s mouth. Another staff member shoved the resident’s head and compressed her torso while shifting her in the bed. Chicago personal injury lawyers are aware that Texas, New Mexico and Washington are among the states that currently permit hidden recording devices in residents’ rooms.
Physician and nursing care
Illinois nursing homes were given a grade of D for the low level of direct nursing care provided to each resident, and medication can be a hazard for residents of nursing homes. A recent story on National Public Radio reported that nearly 300,000 residents of nursing homes are receiving antipsychotic drugs that are not approved for elderly patients. These medications come with warnings that state they raise the risk of heart failure, infections and death. Federal law mandates that they must be given only when there is a documented medical need, and they cannot be administered for the convenience of the staff.
In a recent news story in the Chicago Sun-Times, six residents of a South Holland nursing home were hospitalized on the same day. Four of these individuals have died, and at least one was determined to be a homicide due to a lethal dose of painkillers. One death was attributed to natural causes, and others are still under investigation.
Another threat to residents arises from predators among those who live there, and a lack of adequate staffing and direct care hours may leave individuals unprotected. According to the group Illinois Citizens for Better Care, nursing homes are required by law to post signage that indicates people have the right to ask if there is an “identified offender.” However, they are not required to volunteer whether or not there may be a resident who is a registered sex offender.
Illinois does not have a directory that provides a list of individuals with criminal convictions who live in Illinois nursing homes. Law protects convicted felons who are current residents, so nursing homes are not allowed to give their names.
Opposition to the bill
Many of those who oppose hidden cameras in the rooms of nursing home residents believe that the video record is a threat to patient privacy, particularly in the case of roommates and staff members who are unaware of the cameras. Attorney General Madigan’s legislation addresses these concerns.
The bill requires a nursing home to post signage that alerts residents and visitors to the fact that some rooms may be electronically monitored. Those who reside in a room must provide consent. However, if one resident wants a camera and the other does not, the nursing home would be required to move the one who wants the camera into a different room so that the request can be honored.
When an individual suspects that abuse may be occurring in an Illinois nursing home, it is imperative to bring the situation to the attention of the facility’s administration immediately. A long-term care ombudsman should be contacted, as well, and complaints may be filed with the Illinois Department of Health. If the issue is life threatening, emergency services should be called. Chicago personal injury lawyers may be able to provide legal assistance in any case where elder abuse is evident so that the responsible parties may be held accountable.