Conwell Hooper, Executive Director of American Senior Alliance, wrote the following opinion piece for the Sun Sentinel.
Recent legislation filed by Florida Sen. Gary Farmer (SB 896) and Rep. Katie Edwards (HB 655) not only ignores nursing home residents’ rights to privacy, but also poses a safety risk for these seniors, as well as the staff who care for them.
American Senior Alliance is a non-profit organization that stands up for America’s seniors. One aspect we focus on is ensuring they receive the best possible long-term care in the most dignified manner. We believe strongly in protecting the rights and safety of our seniors. Unfortunately, these bills do nothing of the sort.
These lawmakers are suggesting that unannounced, “undercover” agents should be able to come into nursing centers anytime to assess the care that’s being provided. How can we ensure that safety if nursing homes no longer have control over who is able to enter the building? Sadly, active shooter scenarios are a very real threat in our society today. What happens when someone decides to pose as one of these undercover agents, gains access to the building and brings real harm to the residents and staff?
Another proposal put forth by legislators: Requiring facilities to allow residents’ families to monitor them electronically as a safeguard against abuse. Our seniors and their caregivers develop wonderful trusting partnerships. While we understand that families want to ensure that trust is preserved, we don’t believe cameras are the solution. Cameras will capture residents in their most intimate moments – dressing, bathing, toileting to name a few. How do we ensure those who have access to that footage will not use it in a way that is degrading or undignified? How do we protect the rights of roommates who don’t want to be captured on camera?
It’s a very slippery slope trying to balance the privacy rights of residents, roommates, caregivers, visitors and families. There are many ethical and legal issues that must be addressed and considered, including an invasion of privacy. At the same time, we need to ensure our seniors are cared for in the safest and most dignified way.
Over the last 10 years, Florida has made significant strides to help achieve record results in providing extraordinary care for our older Americans. Those results have come because the care is more person-centered, with residents and families taking a more active role in how that care is planned out.
Farmer and Edwards need to take a closer look at the bills they’re proposing and understand how they will water down the rights to privacy, an assurance of safety and a care delivery system that maintains seniors’ dignity. What looks good on paper and works to grab headlines, we believe, in the end, will do a disservice and sends the wrong message to our elder population and those employees entrusted to their care.
Conwell Hooper is executive director of American Senior Alliance, a not-for-profit organization that advocates on behalf of America's greatest generation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.