PhotoStories of neglect and abuse of nursing home residents have become so common in recent years that Illinois has passed a law that allows families to install electronic monitoring systems in residents' rooms.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the new piece of legislation late last week. It takes effect January 1, 2016, and will make Illinois one of four states in the nation that explicitly allows for cameras in nursing homes.

"The Illinois Department of Public Health receives approximately 19,000 complaints of abuse and neglect against long-term care residents yearly," said Bob Gallo, AARP Illinois State Director. "AARP commends the General Assembly and Governor Rauner for their leadership on this issue and for helping to protect the state's most vulnerable residents."

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who drafted the legislation and lobbied for passage, says it will give families much-needed peace of mind.

Peace of mind

"Deciding to place a loved one into a nursing facility is extremely difficult, and as Baby Boomers age, more families will be faced with that decision," said Madigan. "This law makes Illinois one of the first states in the nation to give families peace of mind by allowing them to monitor their loved one's care when they cannot be present."

Madigan said the legislation sprang from complaints her office received from nursing home residents and families who are concerned for their relatives' care and security. The new law allows residents of nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities or their family members to purchase and install video or audio monitoring devices in their rooms.

"The vast majority of Illinois' nursing homes provide high-quality services to their residents, but this law allows commonly used modern technology [to] add another layer of care," said Rep. Bob Harris, a co-sponsor of the legislation. "These recording devices will help families ensure that their loved ones are receiving respectful and compassionate care."

The new law stipulates that recordings are only to be used for civil, criminal, or administrative proceedings related to the health, safety, or welfare of a resident.

At residents' expense

Residents or their families must pay for the equipment and its installation. A resident or their guardian must consent to the use of a camera having the monitoring equipment in the resident's room. If a resident has a roommate, his or her consent is also required.

If monitoring equipment is installed, the facility manager must be notified and a sign placed on the door of the room stating: "This room is electronically monitored."

The law also provides protection to facility residents from any retaliation by facility staff. Staff could face criminal charges if they knowingly hamper, obstruct, or disable monitoring equipment.

Madigan has long cited an increasing need for additional safety measures at Illinois nursing homes as the state's population continues to age. At the moment, Illinois has more than 860 nursing home facilities with more than 76,000 residents.

Madigan said the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) investigates approximately 5,000 complaints every year, the majority of which involve long-term care facilities. In 2013, the IDPH found 106 allegations of abuse, neglect, or misappropriation of property against residents by facility staff to be valid.  

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