COLUMBIA - A bill giving families the ability to electronically monitor their loved ones in South Carolina's nursing homes stalled Thursday.
The Senate Medical Affairs Committee was evenly divided on the bill, with a 7-7 vote preventing its advancement to the Senate floor. So it was returned to subcommittee for more work, a move that likely means its demise.
The bill would require nursing homes to allow residents or their families to install a camera in their room and pay any monitoring costs.
Its sponsor, Sen. Paul Thurmond, said families should have the opportunity to check in on loved ones to ensure they're not being abused or neglected.
"This is really about empowering an individual who's in a nursing home," he said. "The older generation is fraught with neglect and abuse."
Thurmond, R-Charleston, said he proposed the legislation after the December 2012 arrest of an employee at a Mount Pleasant nursing home who was charged with abusing a then-101-year-old resident, Jesse Wood. His granddaughter, represented by Thurmond's law firm, hid the camera in a clock after Wood complained about his treatment. The case is still pending.
"But for her use of the video camera, this never would've been caught," Thurmond said, calling his bill a common-sense option for families.
Thurmond patterned his bill on a Texas law that requires the family to absorb any costs and mandates consent of the resident, as well as of any other resident if a room is shared.
But the state's nursing home association is fighting the measure as interfering with private businesses and invading people's privacy.
"Most residents won't be making those decisions. Others will be making it for them," said Randy Lee, president of the South Carolina Health Care Association. "We're providing intimate care. That's their home."
Sen. Shane Martin, R-Pauline, agreed the government shouldn't force a private business to do anything. There's nothing barring the facilities from allowing it now, so if one nursing home denies the request, the family should just choose another, he said.
But Sen. Thomas Alexander said that's often not possible, as families are limited in their choices.
"In my area, all the beds stay full. It's not as simple as taking a loved one from one facility to another," said Alexander, R-Walhalla. "More and more, individuals are having loved ones placed in a facility and they don't live close by. It gives them the ability of having security."
Sen. Floyd Nicholson, D-Greenwood, questioned whether making it an option funded by families essentially discriminated against residents whose stay is covered by Medicaid, because they couldn't afford the cost.
About 70 percent of nursing home residents are covered through Medicaid or Medicare, Lee said.
Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said he wished the nursing home industry didn't take such offense to the bill.
"They are concerned this is a ploy to catch them doing bad things to patients. That's not what this is about. This is empowering families to take care of loved ones," he said. However, he added, "Generally, people with cameras on them behave better."
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