Bill would give Iowa nursing homes notice of residents’ surveillance cameras

Close-up of woman holding senior man's hand leaning on cane
An Iowa care facility says a nurse's use of medical leave resulted in the medical neglect of patients in the home. (Photo by Getty Images.)

Iowa legislators are considering a bill that would require the families of nursing home residents to notify the facility before installing a surveillance-type camera in their loved one’s room.

Use of the cameras has grown nationwide in recent years and have been used by families to document abuse and neglect by facility caregivers.

The Iowa bill, Senate File 378, states that even if a resident whose family wishes to install a camera has a private room with no roommates, the family must first complete notification and consent forms and submit copies to the facility’s administrator.

If the resident has a roommate, electronic monitoring of the room can proceed only after the roommate has been given written notice and then provided written approval, with copies of those records routed to the facility itself.

The bill also states that once electronic monitoring begins, the facility must “post a sign clearly and conspicuously” outside the resident’s room, stating, “This room is electronically monitored.”

Any video or audio recording created through electronic monitoring could then be admitted into evidence in any civil, criminal, or administrative proceeding, but only if the recording itself “includes the date and time the events occurred.”

Nursing homes would be barred from retaliating or discriminating against any resident for either consenting to, or refusing, electronic monitoring.

Only two entities are registered with the Iowa Legislature as lobbying for or against the bill: AARP of Iowa and the John Hale Group, both of which advocate for residents’ rights, and both of which support the bill.

The Iowa Long-Term Care Ombudsman’s Office has not registered a position on this or any other bill during the 2021 legislative session.

The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, better known as HIPAA, does not bar the use of video cameras in a nursing home resident’s room, as long as the camera is owned and installed by the resident within the room or their family. HIPAA, however, does not require that facilities allow the use of such devices, which means that in the absence of any state laws, nursing home policy may be the controlling factor as to whether they can be used.

But there are exceptions. Although Maryland has no state law expressly allowing the use of cameras, it has issued guidelines for their use in residents’ rooms. In New Jersey, another state with no law expressly allowing cameras, the state’s attorney general loans camera equipment to families who want to monitor their loved one’s care.

According to the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care and the National Center on Elder Abuse, only nine states have approved legislation to expressly allow the installation of resident-room surveillance cameras in nursing homes.

Those states are Illinois, Missouri, Texas, Kansas, Washington, New Mexico, Louisiana, Minnesota and Oklahoma.

Clark Kauffman
Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.