Ohio bills introduced that would allow cameras in nursing home rooms

The bill is called Esther’s Law to honor the deceased mother of an Ohio man who uncovered her mistreatment at the hands of staff in a nursing home through the installation of a camera in her room.

After an Ohio man advocated for a change in state law to allow residents and their families to install cameras in nursing home residents' rooms, state lawmakers have introduced companion bills in the Ohio Senate and House called Esther's Law that would do just that. Esther was the mother of the man, who uncovered her maltreatment by several staff members through his use of a camera in her room.

This proposal aims to change current law, which allows the facility to block these cameras by "not consenting" to their use, according to WBNS. The news source also reports that only six other states have some form of a law like this on the books. If passed, this proposal would provide residents and their loved ones with legal support to push back if a facility does not support use of a camera to monitor their loved one's care.

Nursing home abuse or neglect

It is common knowledge that, tragically, nursing homes are dangerous places in our state and country for vulnerable elderly residents. Most families try to avoid nursing home placement if they can, but sometimes there is not another option. Ironically, the placement is needed to provide a level of care and supervision to keep residents safe, but protection from elder abuse and neglect is not a guaranty, despite state and federal laws meant to do so.

There are so many reasons that elder abuse or neglect in long-term care facilities is hard to detect. The residents themselves may have cognitive or memory problems that make it hard to understand what is happening or how to report it. Sometimes victims are afraid of retaliation if they tell other staff or family of mistreatment.

Finding and retaining quality staff is notoriously difficult for nursing homes. The pay is low, and the work is hard. Deficits in training, supervision and patient-to-staff ratios may contribute to the risk of harm.

Esther's Law

Sponsors introduced the companion bills in Dec. 2019. As of this writing in Jan. 2020, Senate Bill No. 255 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Human Services and Medicaid, while the House version appears not to have been referred to any committee yet.

The bills are very similar with slight difference - that the House version would require an installed camera to use two-factor authentication to prevent tampering. Tampering would be a misdemeanor under both versions of the legislation.

The major provisions of Esther's Law include:

  • A resident or their sponsor (relative, guardian or friend with responsibility or interest in the resident's welfare) may authorize an "electronic monitoring device" (visual or audio or both recording device) in the resident's room in a long-term care facility.
  • The resident or sponsor must complete a form for the facility with a provision releasing the facility from liability for violation of privacy rights.
  • The resident or sponsor will pay for the device and any related expenses, except electricity, and for Medicaid patients, financial assistance may be available.
  • If the resident has a roommate, the other resident or their sponsor must consent or may consent with conditions like pointing the camera away from that resident.
  • The facility must make a "reasonable attempt" to accommodate a camera request when the roommate objects by moving either of them to a different room.
  • The facility must post notice of the device at the room's entrance.
  • The facility may not retaliate or discriminate against a resident or applicant for residence for authorizing a camera. This extends to state the facility cannot deny admission or discharge a resident who chooses to use a camera in this manner.

Advocates for the elderly will watch this bill with concern.

The lawyers at Kelley & Ferraro, LLP, in Cleveland help nursing home residents and their families and guardians investigate suspected elder abuse as well as pursue justice and compensation for negligent or intentional abuse or neglect.