For 10 years, Martha Eudaley fought a seemingly never-ending battle with Missouri lawmakers to protect residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities from abuse and neglect.
Eudaley’s husband, Tom, was a victim of elder abuse. In 2019, Eudaley told the Missourian she once found Tom alone, slumped over in his wheelchair in a nursing home in Town and Country. The room was hot, and he was covered in feces.
Tom was later hospitalized with a high fever and transferred between various hospitals. He died soon after.
That was in July 2010. Eudaley has been advocating for other nursing home residents since then and has supported many unsuccessful bills.
This year, that changed.
The “Authorized Electronic Monitoring in Long-Term Care Facilities Act” went into effect Aug. 28. The new law, sponsored by Rep. Jim Murphy, R-St. Louis, allows residents to install cameras in their rooms.
The idea is that residents’ families can watch or listen to the resident via video and audio footage at any time. The facility must be aware of the recording, and any other residents in the room must consent to being recorded.
“In the past, there was no accountability at all within these long-term care facilities,” Eudaley said.
She said she looks forward to seeing how residents and their families react to the use of electronic monitoring.
Pandemic shows need
St. Louis lawyer David Terry said the act was a longtime coming.
“The law gives people an opportunity to keep closer tabs on their family members who are in a nursing home,” Terry said, “particularly in this time period of COVID, when family members have gone months without being able to see their loved ones.”
Terry is the founder of Terry Law Firm and practices personal injury law. For nearly 20 years, he has specialized in nursing home abuse and neglect cases.
Murphy’s involvement began when he was elected in November 2018 and Eudaley reached out to him right away.
“The first call I got in my office was from her,” Murphy said. “She said, ‘You need to do something about nursing homes,’ which I knew very little about.”
Murphy said similar bills prior to House Bill 1387 received a great deal of pushback from the Missouri Health Care Association. MHCA lobbyists were concerned about video footage being widely distributed across the internet, violating the privacy of residents and facility workers alike.
Thus, House Bill 1387 requires video and audio footage to be jointly owned by the resident — or their family member or guardian — and the long-term care facility. It cannot be shared with anyone else, with the exception of government authorities in the case of abuse or neglect.
Murphy said the ongoing pandemic made the need for authorized electronic monitoring that much stronger. He cited the need for transparency, as most nursing homes have not allowed visitors for months.
“There’s no communication with (your family members),” Murphy said. “You wonder what’s going on because you can’t see them, so this bill was timely for that and really drove home the fact that we need to be able to communicate to our loved ones.”
Nicole Lynch is the grants and public policy coordinator for VOYCE, a St. Louis ombudsman program for long-term care residents. Lynch echoed Murphy’s sentiment, explaining that cameras will reduce disparities across the board and help nursing home residents be less isolated.
Such isolation is widespread now, but was a way of life for some nursing home residents before the pandemic.
“Some of them have families that visit them, but many of them do not,” Lynch said. “Especially in (facilities) within the St. Louis city that are primarily Medicaid homes and African American residents.”
Authorized electronic monitoring allows families to see how their families are being treated — such as whether they are being moved around enough or getting bed sores — and gives residents an advocate they may not have had before, Lynch said.
“We believe that the cameras will be a deterrent for abuse and neglect and that it will improve the care they’re receiving, whether that’s the quality of services or the quantity of services to meet that minimum standard of care that is expected when you put someone that you love into a nursing home,” Lynch said.
How do you report abuse or neglect?
The law requires that abuse or neglect be reported within seven days after the incident is viewed or heard on footage. A key point is that the timeline starts from reviewing the footage, not the date the abuse occurred.
Lynch said the seven-day reporting period can be one of the most confusing parts of the bill for Missouri residents.
That’s where Terry comes in.
Terry says he believes the reporting clause is to ensure people don’t wait 30 or 100 days to report abuse and neglect but instead take care of it in a timely manner. What the clause can’t affect, though, is the Missouri statute of limitations for filing a claim.
As detailed on Terry’s website, there are two types of claims — medical malpractice and wrongful death.
Medical malpractice occurs if a resident is injured from neglect in a nursing home. This claim must be filed within two years of discovering the injury.
Wrongful death is when a resident dies as a result of abuse or neglect; the family has three years to file a claim after their death.
To report elder abuse or neglect, Missouri residents can call the Missouri Adult Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 800-392-0210. Cases can also be reported online, and further resources can be found through the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services or the National Center on Elder Abuse.
Because of the pandemic and concerns about spreading COVID-19, many nursing homes are not allowing families to enter the facilities and install cameras.
Murphy said that the DHSS has made available two liaisons to help residents and families navigate the process of setup and communication with long-term care facilities. The liaisons are: