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Privacy Law and Nursing Home Abuse Part II: The Legality of “granny cams”

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In Part One of Privacy Law and Nursing Home Abuse, the unintended impediments to protection from and investigation of nursing home abuse that privacy law can create were discussed. In Part II, your Denver personal injury lawyer looks at the legality of using “granny cams” to detect and prosecute nursing home abuse, and the effect of such surveillance on the privacy rights of those involved.

In Oklahoma City in 2012, the family of Eryetha Mayberry became suspicious that one of the other residents in the nursing home where she stayed was taking personal items that they brought to her–a new nightgown, lipstick, etc. The family secretly placed a camera in an alarm clock, hoping to catch the thief in the act. What they caught shocked them and the country. The footage revealed aides stuffing latex gloves into Mayberry’s mouth, taunting her, throwing her onto the bed, and performing fake CPR on her. The outrage following the release of the video led to Oklahoma joining Texas and New Mexico as the third state that explicitly allows residents in long-term care facilities to have surveillance cameras in rooms. In the two years since the Mayberry case, at least five other states have considered similar legislation.

Not content to wait for legislation explicitly permitting the use of video surveillance in nursing homes, many families have turned to the use of so-called “granny-cams” to ensure that the most vulnerable of the elder population–those with dementia and Alzheimer’s–are not being mistreated. One example is the family of Lois McCallister, who was moved by her daughter and son-in-law (the French’s) to the Quadrangle nursing home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. When McCallister was moved into the dementia ward, the French’s surreptitiously placed a granny cam in her room. The camera caught employees hitting and tormenting McCallister. The employees were fired, and the state moved to revoke Quadrangles’s license. The French’s are currently suing the parent company of Quadrangle, Sunrise, in the hope that a multimillion-dollar verdict against Sunrise will send a clear message that real change is needed. Furthermore, the French’s hope to recoup the money spent on McCallister’s care while at Quadrangle and presently.

So if granny cams are a great weapon in the fight against nursing home abuse, why hasn’t every state enacted legislation expressly allowing their use? The reason that legislative efforts have become stalled is the same reason that disclosures regarding the extent of the NSA’s wiretapping programs became such a huge scandal: our national history and our culture place a great deal of importance on the right to privacy.

We protect that right at what can be a very high cost at times. But is there really a right to privacy in a nursing home? Put another way, is there a legitimate expectation of privacy in a communal residential facility? Even more to the point: who may assert the right if there is one? Some experts worry that those whom the granny cam often seeks to protect–dementia and Alzheimer’s patients–can not consent. But given the extreme vulnerability of these residents, doesn’t the protection outweigh any infringement of their right to privacy? Your Denver personal injury attorney suggests placing a notice wherever a granny cam is located so that both residents and aides are aware that they are being monitored. Thus, there would be no expectation of privacy, and in some cases, the mere knowledge of being monitored acts as a deterrent to abusive behavior.

If you know someone in a nursing home that you suspect may be the victim of abuse or neglect, contact Jordan Levine of The Levine Law Firm. A consultation is free and confidential, and your Denver personal injury attorney will fight to ensure your legal rights are protected.