Minnesota Senate panel approves cameras to watch over residents in nursing homes

A measure that would allow residents of nursing homes to have security cameras in their rooms is advancing in the Minnesota Senate, amid concern about abuse, neglect and retaliation in elder care facilities.

In August 2016, Mary Ann Papp of Bemidji, Minn., broke her right ankle. Papp, who has diabetes, suffered wounds from the cast that eventually forced doctors to amputate her leg.

Her daughter, Lisa Papp-Richards, says her mom developed bedsores on her left side, which led to the amputation of her other leg a few months later. Papp-Richards suspected staff at the nursing home weren't paying attention.

"I just felt like there was something wrong, and my mom would try to tell me something, but it wasn't making sense because she was on all these drugs," Papp-Richards said.

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She bought a webcam and installed it in her mom's room.

"My mom called me and said you need to get up here right away. And I said why? And she said they found the camera and they want you to remove it. And I said 'Mom, we don't have to remove it.'"

But she did. Papp-Richards says administrators told her the webcam was a violation of the nursing home's policy.

Papp-Richards has driven several times from Bemidji to St. Paul to advocate for legislation that would allow cameras in residents' rooms at elder care facilities. She wants to help others avoid the mistreatment that she says her 76-year-old mother has suffered.

"I believe that my mom would still have her legs, because I could have seen that they weren't going in there like they should. I could have done something."

Elder abuse attorney Suzanne Scheller represents Papp-Richards. Scheller argues that nursing homes have no right to remove webcams because they are residents' personal property, like the possessions of an apartment tenant. But she says nursing homes refuse to see it that way.

"They're saying without the law, we don't have to comply," Scheller said.

The measure would establish guidelines for cameras in residents' rooms. Among other things, any roommates would have to consent. The proposal also requires residents or their representatives to notify the facility within two weeks that a webcam is present.

That provision won over the state's nursing home owners. At a Senate committee hearing Tuesday, Toby Pearson with Care Providers of Minnesota says operators back the legislation.

"Our members believe that yes, we should receive notice, to help ensure the ability to respect privacy as well as act as a deterrent," Pearson said.

Republican Jim Abeler of Anoka is one of the Senate authors of the bipartisan measure. He says the majority of employees at elder care facilities do their jobs well, but webcams can offer another level of protection for residents.

"This information gleaned by this video monitoring can be used at a trial, if you wish to charge someone with a bad act," Abeler said. "And it will also have the effect of putting everybody on notice that they should do a little better job."

The measure goes next to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Minnesota House is considering similar legislation.