Surveillance in Personal Care Homes: A Case Study

August 24, 2015 - Melanie Coyle, Analyst

We often get questions from those working in personal care homes and family members of the residents about the use of hidden video surveillance. So we thought we would share some of our thoughts on the issue.

Imagine this scenario: Family members of Jane, an elderly woman with dementia, suspect that she is being mistreated and abused by staff in her personal care home. The family requires proof to move forward with their allegations. They are considering putting a hidden recording device in Jane’s room to monitor the actions of staff. This would be akin to a “Nanny Cam”… a Granny Cam!

There are many parties that can be affected by this situation such as Jane, the care home, the staff, other residents and the family member responsible for the recording. Here are some considerations and different perspectives to think about:

The Personal Care Home/Trustee

Our office oversees The Health Information Act (HIPA). It is one of our province’s “privacy acts” that specifically applies in situations where personal health information is involved. However, it would only apply to a “trustee” and its staff. In this scenario, the personal care home would be the trustee. Since Jane’s family is making the recording, HIPA would not apply in this situation.

HIPA may apply if the family provides the video to the personal care home after filming.

However, under HIPA, personal care homes do have a duty to protect personal health information of their residents. In the interest of safeguarding the personal health information of all residents, personal care homes may consider developing policies and guidelines for families.

Jane

A recording device should only be used with the consent of Jane. However, in this case, Jane has dementia and cannot give consent. If she were able to give consent, she would likely be able to bring forward allegations on her own without the recording device. Only Jane’s substitute decision maker has the authority to choose to put surveillance in her room. We urge the substitute decision maker to carefully consider their loved one’s wishes. For example, intimate care would be captured. Would Jane have accepted this intrusion?

The Roommate

Jane has a roommate. Substitute decision makers should ensure that the camera only captures their loved one’s personal space. It is also a good idea to try and obtain the consent of the roommate. Further, as discussed below, surveillance should not have an audio component.

Jane’s Substitute Decision Maker

There are some risks associated with surveillance that the substitute decision maker should weigh. For example, it may be an offence under the Criminal Code to record sexual activity or nudity. It may also be an offence to record a private conversation without the consent of the parties. As such, audio recordings are not recommended. Also, action could be taken under Saskatchewan’s rarely used Privacy Act.

The Personal Care Home Worker

As discussed above, HIPA does not apply in this case. So the IPC would not be able to investigate if a personal care home worker had a complaint. Further, the personal care home is Jane’s dwelling. There does not appear to be an expectation of privacy when providing care to an individual. As discussed above, there are some circumstances where a worker might have a legitimate privacy complaint that can be pursued through other relevant authorities.

These are some of the considerations and perspectives when considering video surveillance in a personal care home. There are not many resources on this topic; however this newsletter from the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly is quite helpful. (http://www.advocacycentreelderly.org/appimages/file/ACE_Summer_Newsletter_Vol10_No1.p df)

Also, take it from me, it is NOT a good idea to google “granny cam”.

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