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Monitoring in nursing homes a possibility

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COLUMBIA - South Carolina nursing home residents concerned with their safety or who would prefer that they be electronically monitored by loved ones from afar may soon have that option.

A Senate subcommittee advanced a bill that would allow for residents to place a camera in their rooms, should they feel the need to do so. The bill - Electronic Monitoring of a Resident's Room in a Long-Term Care Facility - would require facilities to make accommodations to comply with a resident's request and penalties for staffers who tamper with the camera or equipment.

Sen. Paul Thurmond, R-Charleston, said he introduced the bill after learning of similar legislation in Oklahoma. His interest was heightened after learning of the abuse of Jesse Lee Wood, an elderly patient at a Mount Pleasant facility, he said. The Post and Courier reported in 2012 details from an arrest report about events captured on a hidden camera, where a staffer of the facility was seen flicking Wood's nose, and reaching through a curtain, grabbing Wood's arm and shaking it.

If Thurmond's bill becomes law, a patient alleging abuse - or a family member with power of attorney who suspects as much - would have the ability to place a camera in a room. And the facility cannot stop them from doing so.

"It really puts a lot of power in their hands to be able to have oversight of their care in a way that family can be involved without being there," Thurmond said. "The patient can interact where it's positioned and what it's going to capture."

The bill has been changed since its introduction to address privacy concerns. For example, it would require a resident or the family to post a notice informing those about to enter the room that it is being monitored.

During Thursday's subcommittee meeting, the panel heard opposition to the bill from Rick Sellers - chairman of the South Carolina Healthcare Association Board of Directors and administrator for the National HealthCare Corporation in Greenwood.

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Sellers could not be reached for comment and a request to speak with the president of the association, Randy Lee, was not immediately returned Friday. Sellers told the panel during the meeting, however, the bill was "bad public policy."

"It undermines the privacy and the dignity of nursing home patients and their doctors, and the nurse practitioners and their caregivers, and frankly their visitors," Sellers told the panel. "Cameras in the resident rooms are a breach of confidentiality as well as demeaning, demoralizing and disruptive of the care of these frail and incapacitated human beings."

Sellers added the use of cameras could have a demoralizing impact on staff, and a negative impact on the facility's ability to recruit and retain staff. Thurmond referred to the concerns as "red herrings."

"What is your real concern?" he said. "If you're doing everything right, why do you care that a camera is in the room?"

Coretta Bedsole, associate state director for advocacy for the AARP, said the organization is supportive of consumer-driven measures and of the modifications that were made to the bill that addressed privacy concerns.

"It would give loved ones the opportunity to monitor what's going on in the lives of their loved ones," Bedsole said. "I think really it's about consumer protection. Anything that we do in any setting really needs to be on what's best for the resident of the facility."

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