Home disputes use of camera to oversee care

·6 min read

A 64-year-old resident of a provincial long-term care home wants her family to permanently install a granny camera, after staff allegedly delayed contacting an ambulance or her daughter on three occasions after suffering health setbacks.

However, with no clear policy about usage of surveillance cameras in provincial care homes, management resorted to what the family sees as coercive and inappropriate decisions.

Administration and staff of Prince Edward Home, located in Charlottetown, attempted to transfer the resident to the QEH in the middle of the night as a reaction to unions notifying the employer that staff have the right to refuse entering the resident’s room while the camera was rolling.

The resident, Debbie Gallant is of sound mind but has COPD and mobility issues, among other health concerns.

She felt the camera would enable her family to monitor her and act quickly if she needed assistance.

“I was afraid it was going to happen again, where I’d be there for three or four hours and Elizabeth wasn’t called,” Ms Gallant said, referring to her daughter, Elizabeth Coles.

The home's director was not available to speak before press time, but Health PEI released a statement to The Graphic. It said a major concern surrounding the cameras is that staff have no way to confirm the device's security. They cannot confirm whether the device is able to pick up audio from a nearby room or hallway where the participants have not consented, or whether the device is streaming patient information over an unsecured Wi-Fi network.

Ms Gallant said she felt harassed by staff and management when they reacted to the camera.

After the home was notified, she said, one staff member visited her six times and a member of management visited her five times about the camera in one day. This is despite being unable to produce any policy that directly addressed the device in a long-term care setting.

On one visit, a staff member told her repeatedly, the camera would be removed under the direction of an administrator.

See that interaction, caught on camera, in the video bellow:

This video was submitted then edited by Rachel Collier.

The same day management told Ms Gallant if she continued to record, her care needs may not be met and a transfer to the QEH could be required.

Management asked Ms Gallant to sign a form saying she chose one of those two options. She refused.

Ms Gallant knew it was her right to see written policy regarding changes to her care.

Despite her refusal to accept the options an ambulance was called and EMS arrived at 3 am. She told paramedics she hadn't consented to a transfer so the paramedics left.

Management had explained earlier that day they wanted her to sign off on an option because a union representing the home’s staff voiced concern about the camera and informed staff they have the right to refuse to enter her room under the circumstances.

Union of Public Sector Employees (UPSE), which represents some LPNs and RCWs in the province, confirmed by email one of their representatives did raise concerns about the use of a Wi-Fi camera to the employer.

Video footage showed on the night of August 6, that no staff showed up to her room to check on her breathing equipment from 11 pm to 3 am. No one checked in again until about 7 am.

On August 7, staff didn’t provide regular personal cleaning care to Ms Gallant in her room, also according to the video. However, nurses did provide other types of care and offered her a bath elsewhere in the facility.

Ms Gallant said she asked a staff member why they were refusing certain care in her room and if she could get the change in writing.

A staff member responded on video: “It’s not a refusal, we’ll be more than happy to come in and do your care, if the camera gets turned off.”

See this interaction, caught on camera, in the video below:

This video was submitted then edited by Rachel Collier.

Concerned about meeting her health needs, another unwanted attempt to transfer her to hospital and afraid to be left without surveillance by family, Ms Gallant moved to her daughter's home. She has been living there since August 8.

Ms Coles' home is not set up to best accommodate her mother’s mobility or health needs.

As Health PEI and the Department of Health and Wellness discuss and consider policy, on camera use the mother and daughter want the province to hold the security and safety of one of the Island’s most vulnerable populations as their top priority.

They are willing to make compromises to ensure their camera isn’t breaching any pertinent regulations, acts or laws.

A Health PEI spokesperson said in an email the authority recognizes there is a need for a more direct policy on camera use as expectations on this issue are changing here and across Canada.

“We are developing that,” the statement reads. “In the meantime, our priority is in ensuring our practices are both patient/resident centred while ensuring, due to the communal nature of our homes, that the appropriate privacy protections for all concerned are in place.”

Laura Tomblyn Watts, of Sandy Cove Nova Scotia, is the CEO of CanAge, an advocacy group with the mission of advancing the rights and wellbeing of Canadians as they age. She is also an Executive Member of the Canadian Bar Association’s National Elder Law section and a Board member of the National Initiative for the Care of the Elderly.

While there are challenges with having the cameras in a long-term care home which is a place of work for staff, and a shared home for other residents, it’s important to remember the settings are different from other health care environments such as a hospital, she said.

“This is the person’s home. You’re allowed to have cameras in your own home in Charlottetown, in Rustico, wherever you are. The idea that your long-term care home is your home, means you’re allowed to put cameras in your home.”

Ms Watts said recording conversations where the person recording is not a participating party or recording of nudity are both issues. But these legal and ethical challenges can and should be mitigated to support a resident who thinks a granny cam could improve their quality of life and possibly prevent abuse.

She said while debates on PEI and across Canada typically surround whether or not homes can allow hidden cameras or surveillance cameras, she would like the conversation to break beyond that, into answering how can homes allow streaming live video over the internet through technology like Skype, or Zoom.

Ms Watts believes this could certainly benefit the lives of the elderly. This particularly became apparent over the course of the pandemic.

A spokesperson from the Department of Health and Wellness was not available for comment about regulations by press time.

The Graphic has agreed to use Ms Gallant’s maiden name and Ms Cole’s unofficial family name for this article.

Rachel Collier, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Graphic

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