After intense debate, ‘granny cams’ bill fails

James Dempsey died in 2014 after authorities say his caregivers ignored his pleas for help.
James Dempsey died in 2014 after authorities say his caregivers ignored his pleas for help.

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Advocates argued measure favored industry instead of residents

A fight over the rights of families to monitor loved ones in nursing homes ended late Wednesday with senior care advocates celebrating the defeat of a “granny cams” bill.

The bill’s sponsor said it would help keep residents safe by setting up a process for families to install “in-view” cameras authorized by the homes and allowing that footage to be used in both civil and criminal court cases. But the bill said if a family decided to use a hidden camera, those recordings couldn’t be used in civil lawsuits.

After a year when thousands of long-term care residents died during a pandemic, where families were blocked from visiting senior care homes and where facilities often struggled to find enough staff to provide adequate care, advocates said it was essential to hold onto the ability to use “granny cam” recordings — something the Georgia Supreme Court last year ruled was legal.

“Our most important goal in this process was to ensure the protection of residents’ rights and well-being,” said Marylea Boatright Quinn, director of government affairs for the Georgia chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. “We are thrilled that the legislature decided not to pass a version of House Bill 605 that would have stripped them of those rights already existing in Georgia law.”

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The state Senate late Wednesday responded to the concerns of advocates and passed an amended version of the bill that would have both set up the process allowing families to install “in-view” cameras at long-term care facilities, while also authorizing the use of footage from legally installed hidden cameras in criminal or civil actions.

But the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, didn’t agree to the Senate’s changes. The bill died close to the legislative session’s conclusion Wednesday night.

“Residents and families won tonight, and we are happy to see that the rights that residents and their families have in current law are protected,” said Nancy Pitra of AARP Georgia, which encouraged members to contact lawmakers in opposition. “It was the right policy decision to protect residents.”

Without a bill, it’s unclear whether some in the nursing home industry will start to offer families the option of in-view cameras or other types of monitoring, knowing that the court found it was legal for residents with security concerns to hide a “granny cam” in a loved one’s room.

“The biggest lesson here for the legislature was a reminder that when these folks live in long-term care, that’s their home,” Quinn said. “Folks who live in those settings have the same rights as we do in our homes.”

The long-term care industry strongly supported the bill as a way to temper the Supreme Court decision. The court’s ruling came in a case involving a hidden camera in the Atlanta nursing home room of World War II veteran James Dempsey. His family had placed the camera in the 89-year-old’s room after becoming concerned about safety and security at the home.

The video revealed Dempsey’s disturbing final moments when the nursing staff ignored his repeated pleas for help, saying he could not breathe. That video led to criminal charges against three caregivers, one of whom argued that the recording was not admissible because she had not consented to be recorded.

The court ruled that Dempsey and his family acted legally when placing the camera because there were concerns about security and because the nursing home room was the man’s residence.

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Families can ask long-term care providers to allow in-view cameras as a tool to protect loves ones, said Kathy Floyd, executive director of the Georgia Council on Aging. But if they already have security concerns, she said, placing a hidden camera may make sense.

Quinn, of the Alzheimer’s Association, said abuse is common among people with dementia who live in long-term care homes, and cameras may be the only way for families to detect problems since residents might not be able to report what has taken place.

However, Quinn said, improving care should be the ultimate goal. “Defeating this bill basically asks us all to say — how can we do better in this setting?” she said. “We’re all for measures that will support long-term care, that will support a better direct-care workforce.”

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