Utah could become only the second state to require that assisted living communities grant requests from residents or their representatives to operate or install cameras in resident rooms if a bill being introduced in the state legislature becomes law.

H.B. 124, being introduced by Rep. Timothy D. Hawkes, would allow video or audio monitoring equipment to be used as long as the community has been notified of the intent and related details and as long as any roommates affected by the request approve. The bill would allow communities to require that the resident or his or her representative post a sign near the entrance to the room notifying people that the room contains a monitoring device.

The bill, an amendment to Utah’s Health Care Facility Licensing and Inspection Act, revives a 2014 attempt by the state House of Representatives to pass similar legislation. Five states — Illinois, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Washington — have laws requiring nursing homes to grant resident requests to use surveillance equipment in resident living areas, but only Texas’ 2001 nursing home law, which was amended in 2003 to also apply to assisted living, currently applies specifically to device requests initiated by assisted living community residents or their families, according to Maribeth Bersani, chief operating officer and senior vice president of public policy for Argentum, formerly the Assisted Living Federation of America. Missouri lawmakers have introduced legislation applicable to assisted living as well, she added, and other states have considered it in the past.

The devices would deter criminals from victimizing the elderly, Hawkes told the Deseret News. Bersani, however, told McKnight’s Senior Living that her organization believes that better ways exist to protect assisted living residents without infringing on the privacy that is a hallmark of assisted living and without generating footage that could be manipulated or end up in the wrong hands.

“I completely get how families feel vulnerable,” she said, adding that it’s often a family member, not the resident, who desires the monitoring equipment. “They’re not there. They want to know that Mom’s OK. I just don’t see this as the solution. I think it would have unintended consequences that could cause more problems than they’re trying to solve.”

To help address concerns about potential neglect, abuse or theft (and to try to prevent the perceived need for such legislation), Bersani said, communities’ “first line of defense” is to conduct criminal background checks before hiring workers, although “that doesn’t mean that somebody is not going to have their first criminal act be in an assisted living community.”

Training employees to look for and report suspected abuse or neglect — or anything out of the ordinary — also is crucial, she said. “We have found, when there are incidents, that staff members suspected something,” Bersani said. “They thought a fellow caregiver was acting weird or was in a resident’s room when they shouldn’t have been. We need to make sure people know they not only should feel comfortable reporting; they have to report.”

Educating residents and their families on appropriate behavior also is important, Bersani said. “People sometimes might … say to a staff member, ‘Oh, you can go into my room without me.’ Well, maybe you shouldn’t allow that. What would you do in your own home?”

Communities also might consider asking residents to avoid keeping items of monetary or sentimental value in their rooms, Bersani said.

Criminal background checks and training to detect, prevent and report elder abuse are covered in the phase one community-level standards that Argentum unveiled this month, Bersani said. All members will be asked to meet the standards, and those that do will be able to display a plaque. “I know our members all do these things, and many times, it’s required by state law as well, but it is part of our standards for 2016,” she added.

A LeadingAge representative told McKnight’s Senior Living that the organization does not have a stance on the Utah bill. The National Center for Assisted Living referred McKnight’s Senior Living to a state-level association, which did not have a representative available.

The above article was published Jan. 20, 2016. Read our subsequent articles on this topic here:

Utah camera bill advances through House committee (Feb. 3, 2016)

Utah camera bill moves to Senate (Feb. 20, 2016)

Utah camera bill headed to governor’s desk (March 3, 2016)