PUMPING IRONY: Camera Shy – Experience Life


– Pumping Irony –

24/7 surveillance may deter abuse in long-term care facilities, but even its advocates admit it’s no panacea.

I like to think of myself as a guy who values a little privacy. In my home, you’ll find none of those creepy “personal assistants” that Silicon Valley geniuses invented to collect data on consumer behavior, and you’d have to dig pretty deep into my dusty Facebook page to find my most recent post. Nobody needs to know what I ate for breakfast.

But when I think of vulnerable nursing-home residents and the abuse many of them have suffered at the hands of staff, I can see why family members might be inclined to push the boundaries on the whole privacy thing and set up a camera in their loved one’s room to monitor the activity there. The practice, in fact, has become so common that seven states have passed legislation to smooth over any legal bumps that family — and facilities — may encounter.

The gray zone, however, extends beyond the law, notes Clara Berridge, PhD. “Lots of ethical issues are at play, and it raises the question of privacy’s role in our lives.”

Berridge, an assistant professor of social work at the University of Washington, polled more than 270 nursing homes and assisted-living facilities in 39 states to determine the extent to which surveillance cameras have spread and how they’ve affected the residents. The responses, published in AJOB Empirical Bioethics, were not particularly surprising.

Only about 11 percent of the facilities that responded had installed cameras, but those using them reported that 24/7 surveillance raises plenty of thorny questions: How do you balance its deterrent value against a resident’s desire for privacy? If family members persuade a loved one to allow a camera installation, do they also need consent from his or her roommate? Is the camera owner responsible for protecting the video feed from potential hackers? Is it legal to disable or cover the camera under certain circumstances?

And, while surveillance can deter abuse and offer information that may improve patient care, Berridge and her team concluded that its liabilities far outweigh its benefits. She’d rather see better long-term-care funding options for the elderly so nursing homes and assisted-living facilities can hire more staff and pay them a living wage. Or help geezers like me live out their years in the camera-free comfort of their own…

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