Do we need surveillance in nursing homes?

Surveillance is always a sensitive topic to discuss. Regardless of the sector it is suggested to be implemented in, the installation of surveillance systems always garners mixed reactions and sparks heated debates. But more recently, this topic is now spreading to an unlikely industry – aged care.

In response to recent events regarding various cases of malpractice and abuse towards nursing home residents by its very staff, people are now pushing for the installation of camera surveillance systems in nursing homes. In one such case, an 89-year-old resident was treated roughly and at one point even suffocated by his carer with a handkerchief, according to footage from a hidden camera installed by the resident’s daughter. In another case, a female resident with a broken leg was forced into a chair by two carers, also found from hidden camera footage by a relative. What’s more shocking than the fact that these cases happen in the first place is the aftermath – both cases were taken to court, but the victims were never given appropriate reparations and the nursing homes themselves denied wrongdoing and even cleared records of said incidents.

Lonely man
Photo: Rawpixel, Unsplash

Thanks to these and a handful of other cases, people across the country are now aware of the possibly widespread mistreatment of our elderly in nursing homes and aged care facilities. Because of this, the government is now imposing stricter quality control standards on the nursing home industry. These standards would be maintained by random quality audits and safety inspections.

But will this be enough? There are some who think there is more that can be done. The health group Occupational Therapy Australia (OTA) included the installation of cameras among their recommendations in their submission to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee regarding the prevention of abuse and neglect cases in nursing homes. Ken Wyatt, minister for aged care, also supported the use of video surveillance in aged care facilities to detect abuses and make faster responses to these cases. He states further that, without the hidden cameras installed by residents’ family members, the abuse cases would have never been brought to light and people would still be unaware that the elderly in nursing homes are being treated so poorly. Wyatt is also supporting the implementation of a star rating system for aged care facilities across the country, which will operate similarly to the My School website for educational institutions. This star rating system will also be separate from the federal accreditation system, which does not assess nursing homes on the actual health and well-being of the residents.

Old person in hospital
Photo: Rawpixel, Pixabay

So yes, it could very well be that surveillance systems will bring elderly abuse cases to justice and, to an extent, maybe even prevent them from happening in the first place. Regardless of how effective the surveillance system may be, however, there are still a few issues that need to be sorted out before the government sees it fit to implement across the country.

The first issue is, of course, the cost. Surveillance systems aren’t exactly cheap, so the biggest question is “Who will have to foot the bill for it?” It would be safe to say the end user – or, at the very least, their relatives – is the answer. After all, if the government shells out the money for the cameras, the taxpayers will end up recouping the government’s expenses. Otherwise, if the nursing homes themselves will have to invest in surveillance systems, the cost will simply trickle down to the clients.

Another important point of debate is the effect a surveillance system will have on privacy. Like all people, the elderly value their privacy, and would like to have a sort of safe space for personal matters. This is the reason why a lot of nursing homes in the country name personal, lockable rooms as a major selling point for their facilities. As some opponents argue, the installation of video surveillance systems in residents’ rooms will only serve to destroy the idea and feeling of personal privacy. Supporters of nursing home surveillance will be quick to argue that the benefits of the cameras will far outweigh the disadvantages. The suggestion that camera installation be up to the discretion of individual residents is also circulating in the discussion, and this seems like a good idea as it would still give the benefit of privacy to residents who need it, but offer the protection of surveillance to those who want it.

However, making nursing home surveillance optional would invalidate the point of surveillance in the first place – which is to monitor residents and staff to take action against cases of mistreatment and abuse. The effectiveness of the surveillance system is the third and most important issue in this ongoing debate, and is expected to have sweeping effects once an official decision has been made. On one hand, it has already been established that there is a large amount of support from both civilian and government sectors for the implementation of these surveillance systems in nursing homes.

However, there are also some opponents to this idea. Among them is Graham Sewell, professor of organisation studies and human resource management at the University of Melbourne, who told ABC News that surveillance cameras would only be able to catch abuses as they happen, but won’t do much to prevent them from happening in the first place. He did, however, note that carers who are aware of these cameras in the facility may tend to behave differently. The takeaway here is that surveillance cameras won’t solve all of the problems at the same time – if the cameras are set up to catch criminals, they won’t be able to prevent abuses from happening; and if they are set up to prevent mistreatment, they won’t be able to catch and prosecute abusive staff.

Either way, the debate rages on. We still have a long way to go before an appropriate conclusion can be reached. There is a lot of research to be done and a lot of factors to consider. A decision has to be made, however, and it has to be made fast to protect our elderly.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
Executive Editor at Best in Australia. Mike has spent over a decade covering news related to business leaders and entrepreneurs around Australia and across the world. You can contact Mike here.
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