July 25, 2014

Bill allowing cameras in nursing homes unlikely to pass this year

State senators are unlikely to pass a bill that would allow families to electronically monitor seniors who are living in South Carolina nursing homes.

The Senate Medical Affairs Committee did not have enough votes to advance the idea at its meeting Thursday, the 7-7 deadlock for all practical purposes ensures the legislation has no chance of becoming law this year.

State Rep. Paul Thurmond, R-Charleston, sponsored the proposal, which would require nursing homes to let residents and families install a video camera in their room, if they requested one. The patient would need to cover the costs of the camera.

Thurmond had admitted the proposal was unlikely to clear the committee, with heavy opposition from the state’s long-term care facilities. But the attorney believes it should be an option for families, noting an experience of one of his clients. Thurmond said the man’s granddaughter had used a hidden camera to reveal abuse by an employee of a Mount Pleasant nursing home. The employee was later charged, he said.

“I think our elder generation is fraught with neglect and abuse,” Thurmond said. “This is a step in the direction of trying to ensure that abuse and neglect does not happen.”

Opinion on the bill did not fall along partisan lines. Roughly equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats both supported or opposed the proposal. Opponents cited privacy concerns or whether the bill creates a “nanny state” situation.

“As employees, how many of us want to be in a work environment where everything that we’re doing is monitored by a video camera?” Sen. Kevin Johnson, D-Manning, asked. “It doesn’t make for a comfortable feeling when you’re working.”

Sen. Shane Martin, R-Spartanburg, said there is nothing in current law preventing a family from installing a camera with the nursing home’s permission. He said the family should choose a facility that would allow them to do so. But Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said simply switching nursing care homes is not an easy task, as there are frequently waiting lists for beds. He emphasized that the cameras are optional and nursing homes are not required to install them unless a patient or family requests it.

Thurmond said the cameras would require permission from any roommates.

Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, who voted against advancing the legislation, said families should build a relationship with any nursing home and do frequent unannounced checks if they have concerns.

“There’s no putting off onto a TV camera what we should be doing as relatives of somebody in a facility,” he said.