It is time again for Martha Eudaley to fight the battle she has waged for almost 10 years.
Eudaley still remembers the horror she felt when she discovered her husband left alone in his wheelchair in his room at a Town and Country nursing home nine years ago. Thinking he had died, she screamed for help.
Her husband was hospitalized with a high fever and several complications and passed away not long after, she said.
Eudaley does not want her husband to have died in vain.
For years, Eudaley has been unsuccessfully advocating for legislation that would give residents the right to install cameras in nursing facility rooms.
This year, two bills allowing electronic monitoring in nursing facilities are being considered by state House members. One of those is the bill Eudaley has been fighting for. The other, supported by the industry, would give nursing homes the power to say no.
House Bill 1176, sponsored by Rep. Jim Murphy, R-St. Louis, would allow residents the right to install cameras in their rooms, giving facilities no right to prevent such monitoring.
Mary Lynn Faunda Donovan, executive director of VOYCE, an ombudsman program for senior citizen, testified for the bill at a hearing this week. She said allowing residents the option to install cameras in nursing facilities could help deter abuse, neglect or insufficient care. Ten states, including Illinois and Kansas, have laws in place to allow monitoring at residents’ option, she said.
More than 1 in 5 Medicare recipients are abused or neglected in nursing homes nationwide, according to a study from the Department of Health and Human Services. In Missouri, state agencies investigated 50,000 cases of abuse, neglect or exploitation in 2016 and concluded that about 60 percent of the cases were supported by evidence.
Mary Redford, a long-term care facility ombudsman in St. Louis, detailed examples of abuse and neglect she had witnessed in nursing facilities over the years.
“Many of my residents complained about not getting their medications on time and sometimes not at all,” Redford said. “One resident, who’s diabetic, sat with his meal in front of him for two hours before he got his insulin injection. This happened more than once.”
Installing cameras would not only help verify allegations of abuse or neglect for the residents but also exonerate facility staff who might be wrongly accused, she said.
Murphy’s bill mirrors what Rep. Andrew McDaniel, R-Deering, unsuccessfully proposed from 2015 to 2017. McDaniel, however, is now sponsoring House Bill 675, which would require patients’ families to get permission from the facilities to install cameras.
McDaniel said his bill is a necessary compromise. He said his bill merely sets up a structure of rules for long-term care facilities to play by, but mandating private businesses to abide by the rules is against his Republican ideology.
“If we can get the structure in, I believe that the free market will take place, and people will offer (camera installation) as an incentive for (residents) to come to their facility,” McDaniel said. “As a Republican, I’m not for mandates in making businesses do stuff.”
Donovan said during a previous interview that House Bill 675 would grant facilities the power to turn on and off cameras and to provide restrictions on the use of cameras. She said nursing facilities, especially those with poor care delivery, would have “little incentive to provide their approval.”
“The way the bill is written, it is completely under the control of that nursing home,” Donovan said. “When you have that type of bill with those provisions, it no longer is a bill that works to the advantage of the consumer.”
Jorgen Schlemeier, speaking on behalf of the Missouri Assisted Living Association, spoke in favor of McDaniel’s version of the bill. He said he was concerned that requiring nursing homes to allow cameras could create unintended problems.
Giving facilities the ability to grant approval, Schlemeier said, would incentivize the good facilities and put pressure on the bad actors in the industry.
Rep. Bill Kidd, R-Buckner, stressed the lack of industry-generated standards when it comes to electronic monitoring.
“If you are as concerned for patient safety and well-being ... , then I can’t imagine why you haven’t as an industry come to some standards on this,” Kidd said. “You are waiting for us to hit you with the bat.”
Nikki Strong, lobbyist for the Missouri Health Care Association, has been outspoken in favor of facility control over electronic monitoring. The association spent more than $4,400 on lobbying last year.
Strong said at the Wednesday hearing that installing cameras won’t fix the shortages of funding and staffing in nursing homes, which she referred to as an “unbelievable concern.”
Rep. Lynn Morris, R-Nixa, acknowledged the problem of understaffing but said it is the very reason why cameras should be in place.
Eudaley said in an interview that giving facilities control over monitoring would strip residents of the ability to protect themselves.
“If his bill goes through, the resident and the family, they are done,” Eudaley said. “Do you really think anything that went on in that home that was negative toward that resident, do you really think that that would be made public?”
House Bill 675 is heading to the House floor, which struck Eudaley as a surprise.
“The whole time that Rep. McDaniel was working with us, our bills never did get off the ground too much. If we got a hearing, we were lucky,” Eudaley said. “And all of a sudden now that he’s working with the nursing home lobbyist, his bill’s all of a sudden gone through committees. It never moved that fast.”
“I want to see these people protected. I want to see something done for them,” Eudaley said. “And until we get something that is there to protect them so we can see them, it’s never going to change.”
Supervising editor is Mark Horvit, email@example.com.