Runestad Detroit News op-ed: Protect our seniors in nursing homes

By Sen. Jim Runestad
15th Senate District

Over the past year I have seen countless videos of senior abuse in nursing homes all across the country. These horrific scenes show elderly citizens — some of the most vulnerable among us — being beaten, bruised, thrown around and worse.

Around one in six people 60 years or older experienced some form of abuse during the past year. What’s worse, more than one in four cases of possible sexual and physical abuse against nursing home patients went unreported to police, according to the World Health Organization and an audit by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Elder abuse is a very real problem in our world today. And with an aging population, this problem is only going to become more pronounced. That’s why I’ve introduced legislation to allow nursing home residents and their families to install a camera in their rooms if they would like one.

Cameras can act as a deterrent to some of the most heinous behavior that is taking place. They can give peace of mind to family members worried about the care of their loved ones. And if something does happen — heaven forbid — there would be video evidence in place to make sure justice is served.

Currently nursing homes in Michigan can prevent their residents from having cameras in their own rooms. They’ve made it known they are no fan of cameras and the additional oversight they would bring. Their most recent claim is that by denying residents the option of a camera, they are actually protecting them from an invasion of privacy.

But how can they call it an invasion of privacy when only residents who want cameras would install them? Under my bill, residents and their families, not the nursing home, would pay for and oversee the cameras. If a resident’s living space is a shared one, all roommates would have to consent to having a camera. The measure would require signs to be posted in the facility and the room itself that make it very clear a camera is present.

Additional provisions would allow the curtaining of cameras for medical procedures and other sensitive times. We have made every effort to protect patients’ privacy and dignity with this legislation. If a senior feels safer with the presence of a camera, he or she should not be denied that freedom.

Elder abuse doesn’t stop happening just because we pretend it isn’t real. Refusing to acknowledge this reality does nothing to help the World War II veteran being pushed around, the disabled woman being taken advantage of, or the grandmother being beaten by a staff member. If cameras can stop even one of these instances from taking place, it will be worth it.

Both Republicans and Democrats should be able to get behind Senate Bill 77. After all that our loved ones have done for us, we owe it to them to make sure they are not being harmed.

Legislation alone is not going to stop elder abuse; but it’s a good first step.

Don’t we owe our seniors at least that?

This op-ed appeared in the March 11, 2020 edition of The Detroit News. State Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, represents Michigan’s 15th District.