camera lens close-up

A bill that would allow residents of assisted living communities and personal care homes to install electronic monitoring equipment in their rooms has been blocked by the Georgia General Assembly, according to its sponsor.

Some in the long-term care industry have opposed HB 849, so-called “granny cam” legislation, citing privacy issues. The bill, which also covers nursing homes, was introduced by state Rep. Demetrius Douglas (D-Stockbridge), who says the technology is needed now more than ever.

Tony Marshall, president and CEO of the Georgia Health Care Association, said he previously talked with Douglas and other legislators regarding HB 849 concerns, which he said are shared by the state ombudsman and various advocacy groups.

“Surveillance cameras observe — they do not protect — and the use of such cameras in a healthcare setting significantly increases the risk of violating HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act], federal and state privacy regulations,” Marshall told McKnight’s Senior Living. “We also have concerns related to several other technical aspects of the bill.”

GHCA, he added, supports transparency and measures to ensure that the highest quality of care is being provided to elderly Georgians, while also “valuing a home-like setting and honoring each resident’s dignity and right to privacy.” 

“We believe true quality improvement occurs through collaborative efforts with legislators and other stakeholders to strengthen the ability of nursing centers to recruit and retain a skilled, competent workforce and further programs designed to educate healthcare professionals, consumers and communities-at-large on abuse prevention and identification,” Marshall said.

The bill authorizes electronic monitoring equipment to be placed in a residents’ rooms in assisted living communities, personal care homes, skilled nursing facilities and intermediate care homes. A resident would have to provide written consent from any roommate and notify a facility before installing a device. A sign also would need to be posted letting visitors and staff members know about the technology, and a facility would not be permitted to access any video or audio recording from the device. 

Douglas said the pandemic has proven the need for cameras and noted that other states have adopted similar measures, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He said he introduced the legislation after being contacted during the lockdown by family members who said they were not told about outbreaks or immediately informed when a loved one died.

At least six states — Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Utah — have laws mandating that assisted living communities accommodate resident requests to install electronic monitoring equipment in their rooms. New Jersey also has a “Safe Care Cam” program that loans micro-surveillance equipment to healthcare consumers, including families of assisted living and nursing home residents. 

In other coronavirus-related news:

  • Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced that the state has acquired 250,000 rapid point-of-care antigen tests that will be deployed to assisted living communities, nursing homes and correctional and juvenile detention centers across the state. Maryland, a founding member of the bipartisan interstate testing compact with the Rockefeller Foundation, is the first state in the compact to move forward with an order for rapid antigen tests from Becton, Dickinson and Co. Other members of the compact include Arkansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Ohio, Utah and Virginia.
  • Visitation restrictions at long-term care facilities in Michigan will ease slightly today. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued an order allowing certain facilities — including assisted living and independent living communities — to hold outdoor visits for residents. Visitors will need to make appointments, and numbers will be limited. The rule change is based on an idea from a task force that delivered a report to the governor last month. 
  • AARP Hawaii is calling on the state to improve transparency in reporting COVID-19 data in long-term care facilities; prioritize testing and personal protective equipment for assisted living communities and community care home residents and staff; ensure access to in-person ombudsmen; establish strike teams to respond to coronavirus outbreaks in facilities; require access to virtual visitation; ensure adequate staffing at facilities; and provide relief funding to assisted living and small community care homes. 
  • A “tidal wave” of COVID-related workplace lawsuits could be on the way, warn two law firms’ COVID-10 legal trackers. Coronavirus-related disputes include allegations of wrongful death as a result of unsafe working conditions, wrongful termination for trying to follow state orders, and accusations of using COVID-19 as a pretext for terminating employees for discriminatory reasons.
  • After initially denying access, the Iowa Department of Public Health released one heavily redacted, two-page document in response to a  media outlet’s public records request for information tied to the state’s COVID-19 response. The redacted document is an undated update on the department’s tracking of infections in the state’s assisted living communities and nursing homes. Information redacted includes the number of confirmed positive cases in facilities and comments from the health director on the numbers.