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‘Spy-cams’ in Ohio nursing homes unearth abuse, yet raise legal questions

July 2, 2013
by Pamela Tabar, Editor-in-Chief
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Ohio’s attorney general has made his stance clear: Nursing home abuse will be discovered, even if it takes state-installed cameras.

Ohio’s Attorney General Michael DeWine closed a Zanesville, Ohio, nursing home in June after state-installed hidden cameras had revealed evidence of possible negligence and mistreatment of elderly residents, according to an article in the Columbus Dispatch. The Zanesville case was the first time surveillance cameras had been used by the state’s authorities.

DeWine’s office opened at least 131 potential cases of questionable nursing home practices in 2013, with half of them coming after last month’s hidden-camera-assisted action against Autumn Healthcare of Zanesville, the Dispatch reported. "In January, I reached out to the Ohio Department of Health to come up with a plan on how we could work together to aggressively go after nursing homes whose employees are providing inadequate care," DeWine said during his June 6 announcement of the Zanesville closing. "It is important to point out that there are many good nursing homes in Ohio that provide excellent care. We are putting those that don't on notice that we are not afraid to take action."

Legal questions about secret camera surveillance surfaced almost immediately, since most nursing homes in the state are privately owned businesses. But DeWine maintains that the state has the right to investigate anything that could constitute patient abuse, neglect or Medicare fraud. A “covert search” via video recording devices is included in that right, the attorney general’s office adds, since permission had been obtained from all residents and/or guardians where cameras recorded resident care activities.

Others also raise questions about privacy, since hidden cameras—whether installed by state authorities or residents’ families—could capture outside visitors who had not agreed to being recorded, the Dispatch article noted. But several states, including Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma, already have state laws allowing families to record resident care, and several other states have started their own surveillance pilots.

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