In recent years, cases of abuse in aged care facilities have received wide attention in the media, creating an awareness of the issue that is now acknowledged by the industry.

Reports of abuse are always shocking – it is hard to comprehend how society’s frail and vulnerable could be so mistreated, particularly when the abuse is perpetrated by those who are supposed to be caring for them.

Thankfully, scrutiny of the aged care industry is on the rise, most notably with the introduction of unannounced audits and new quality standards.

But calls for installing security cameras in aged care homes, as an additional measure of protection, are growing in intensity.

HelloCare recently reported a case of alleged abuse at an aged care facility on Sydney’s northern beaches, and we posed the question through social media, “Could it be time to make cameras in aged care residences mandatory?”

The response was overwhelming – we received nearly 300 comments in answer to our question.

Many were in favour, “Yes, anything to protect these defenceless people,” said one reader. “Cameras should be in every room of aged care; this is happening far too often,” said another.

But others were more cautious.

“I don’t agree with cameras. I know a couple of our female patients would be mortified if we put cameras in their rooms. It’s a difficult topic,” said one reader.

Wayne Belcher, CEO of Braemar Presbyterian Care, shared his own personal experience which highlights the complexities of the issue.

“Many years ago – 1997 – we had a dear lady in one of our facilities. I just knew something was happening but couldn’t pin it down. We got the family on side, and the legal issues sorted and placed a mini camera on record to VHS (remember that). Staff were advised etc. About five or six months later the perpetrator forgot that there was another eye on things. Problem solved. My view is, use cameras when you must, but some measure of privacy and dignity will be lost. It’s complex…”

Occupational Therapy Australia: “elder abuse a real and ongoing problem”

Occupational Therapy Australia has called for video surveillance cameras be installed in the rooms of residents in residential aged care facilities “with the permission of those residents or their family members/guardian”.

“This is because elder abuse is a real and ongoing problem,” a statement from the organisation says.

In August 2017, OTA provided a submission to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee’s Inquiry into the Effectiveness of the Aged Care Quality Assessment and Accreditation Framework for Protecting Residents from Abuse and Poor Practices, and Ensuring Proper Clinical and Medical Care Standards are Maintained and Practised in which it recommended cameras be installed. The committee is expected to report on its findings by November 2018.

The organisation made similar recommendations to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport’s ongoing Inquiry into the Quality of Care in Residential Aged Care Facilities in Australia.

A matter of privacy

We are all entitled to privacy, and if we are to respect every resident’s right to choose, we must consider residents’ wishes when it comes to cameras. Permission must certainly be granted by each individual resident to have a camera in their room.

As noted by Mr Belcher, installing cameras does, to some extent, compromise privacy and dignity.

But some residents may be happy to have cameras in their room if it can help to guarantee their safety. Others may feel they would prefer to retain their privacy.

For families who have loved ones in care, who see stories of abuse reported in the media, it’s understandable that they might want to employ every safety measure possible, including cameras.

Perhaps it would work best if cameras in aged care were considered for each resident, on a case by case basis?

Financial considerations

The cost of of installing cameras in every aged care residents’ room must also be considered: they would be significant.

StewartBrown report released earlier this year showed that nearly half of aged care facilities in Australia – 43.1 per cent – reported a loss for the nine months to 31 March 2018. And the trend for reporting losses is on the rise.

Considering this backdrop, some would say that now is not a good time to be putting an extra financial burden on operators.

But could financial losses in the industry simply reflect consumer’s lack of trust in the sector. And if security cameras could help to change that perception, and foster a sense of trust in aged care, could they possibly help to improve financial outcomes?

Video is often the only proof of abuse

In a number of cases, abuse has only been brought to light because video footage has been available.

There is the case mentioned above of the carer who pushed and hit an elderly resident at a Sydney aged care facility, and video was released by the police, leading to the man eventually being charged.

Earlier in the year, a woman was sentenced to 17 months’ detention after a concerned member of staff secretly filmed the woman abusing an elderly resident.

There was also video footage of a carer apparently trying to suffocate an elderly man at an aged care facility in Adelaide, which led to charges being laid. The video was secretly filmed by the resident’s daughter.

Would these cases have been brought to light had there been no video footage? Possibly not. We don’t know how many other cases may be going unreported.

“The extent of the problem is unknown,” said the statement from OTA.

“But one incident of elder abuse is one too many, and anecdotal evidence must not be ignored.”

Video cameras could make it easier for victims to report cases of abuse. It’s not hard to imagine that victims may be reluctant to come forward due to shame, fear of consequences, or worry that they won’t be believed. Proof – through video footage – could make it easier for victims to come forward.

Of course, we must stress in this debate also that in the very large majority of cases the care that residents receive is exemplary, and the extra scrutiny that cameras provide isn’t necessary.

But for those cases where cameras might put an end to a situation of abuse, it might just be worth it.

HelloCare is writing a series of articles based on the questions our readers have asked us over the years. We hope you find this article informative. Please let us know if you have a question you would like answered?

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