Lawmaker says nursing homes need ‘granny cams’

Rep. Demetrius Douglas, D-Stockbridge, says that House Bill 849, his legislation to allow cameras in nursing home rooms, has been blocked at the Capitol. (Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com)
Rep. Demetrius Douglas, D-Stockbridge, says that House Bill 849, his legislation to allow cameras in nursing home rooms, has been blocked at the Capitol. (Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com)

Credit: BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

Credit: BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

With families blocked from visiting Georgians who live in senior care homes because of the pandemic, some facilities are doing everything they can to fill the gap.

They arrange frequent video chats and “window visits” so families can actually “see” spouses, mothers and fathers or grandparents. They post pictures on social media of in-room activities and quickly alert families directly of COVID-19 cases and each resident’s condition. Some homes set up in-person visits outdoors with plastic shields and social distancing.

But at other homes, families find it difficult to get even basic information. The pandemic has greatly stressed staffing levels in an industry that already struggled to find workers. More than 6,700 senior care workers in Georgia have tested positive for COVID-19, and others stop showing up when big outbreaks hit their workplaces.

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It’s not uncommon for phones to go unanswered at facilities throughout the state when families call just to find out: “Is mom okay?”

Georgia could have given families a way to keep tabs on loved ones through so-called “granny cam” legislation sponsored by Rep. Demetrius Douglas, D-Stockbridge. Douglas said House Bill 849, his legislation to allow cameras in nursing home rooms, has been blocked at the Capitol.

“I got a lot of phone calls once we hit the pandemic,” he said. “It would have been ideal.”

The bill doesn’t require cameras in all rooms, but simply authorizes them as an option, he said. “I told them over and over if you’re doing what’s right, what do you have to hide?” Douglas said.

Some in the long-term care industry have opposed the measure, citing privacy issues.

But Douglas said the pandemic has proven the need for cameras and that other states are signing off on them. He said he’s been hearing from family members during the lockdown who weren’t told about outbreaks or even immediately informed when someone died.

“It’s a travesty,” he said.