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Elder Abuse: Are California’s Efforts to Stop it a Step in the Wrong Direction?

photo of an elderly woman
(Photo: Pixabay)

California is combatting elder abuse by implementing security cameras in all nursing home facilities within the state, but is that a good thing or bad thing?

Elder abuse is one of the most common forms of abuse in the United States today. In fact, it is estimated that at least 10% of elderly Americans will be the victim of elder abuse within their lifetimes. Elders are often easy targets for abuse whether that be physical violence, taking advantage of their vulnerability, or causing physiological stress to them. While most elder abuse is committed by the relatives of the victim, a fair amount of abuse occurs in nursing homes as well.

California is taking steps to implement security cameras in all nursing home facilities within the state. Like police body cameras, the idea is that it keeps a digital recording of all events within such facilities will prevent abuse and allow authorities to better address such matters when they occur. This is especially true when you consider that the majority of elder abuse is taken out against people who are suffering from dementia as they’re less likely to be able to accurately report such instances of abuse.

Many, such as Clara Berridge of the University of Washington, have argued that passing legislation to mandate cameras in such facilities could lead to more problems than it would solve. The Washington professor first argues that dignity and privacy are particularly important points to consider about such actions.

While many facilities maintain cameras throughout most of the spaces, considering the vulnerable state of elders within their facilities and the nature of their daily routines, there is a high potential of humiliation if the footage of the cameras were ever to be leaked.

This leads to another issue with implementing cameras throughout such spaces: lawsuits. If California were to mandate these cameras in nursing home facilities, current legislations would most likely put the responsibility of securing these cameras in the hands of the facility itself. Many facilities would lack the personnel to properly secure the footage of these cameras. Without the proper security measures, there is a real possibility the situation would lead to a series of lawsuits that would not be in the best interests of the nursing homes in the long run.

In the article she wrote for the Elder Law Journal, Berridge, opines that ultimately, cameras are no substitute for accountability within these facilities. Instead of placing cameras in every corner of a nursing home which is not only degrading but can also be abused to bad actors, nursing facilities should move to create a culture that promotes better practices in general.

The article argues that a great deal of elder abuse happens because these facilities are not properly staffed which leads neglected patients. There is also a problem with low wages which causes facility staff to perform at a lower quality due to lack of stable home life.

Regardless, elder abuse is a major issue that needs to be addressed one way or another. While a great number of issues today could be solved by heavy-handed measures such as mass surveillance, often times the cost of such actions outweighs the problems that they solve. At the same time, cameras are obviously useful equipment for security purposes. Either way, to see how this situation unfolds, we will have to wait and see what the California legislature decides.

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