Esther’s Law aims to add security for nursing home residents with surveillance inside rooms

Advocates fight for bill moving through Ohio legislature
Published: Mar. 16, 2021 at 11:26 PM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - It’s been ten years since Steve Piskor watched a video captured on a hidden camera that showed a nursing home aid grab his mother and toss her on her wheelchair. Now, he continues his push to get legislation passed in Ohio that would allow any nursing home resident to have a surveillance camera out in the open.

It would be a second set of eyes in a long-term care facility that he says would’ve been a critical tool for families during the pandemic.

“I can’t comprehend why the legislature would not jump on this legislation and pass it, especially after what we went through over the past year with not being able to get into nursing homes and see their loved ones,” Piskor said.

The bill, named Esther’s Law after his mother, would not be mandatory for long-term care home residents. A resident would have to consent to the audio or video monitoring. The people with access to the surveillance would be limited. Tampering with the camera would be a misdemeanor. A sign would be visible to let people know there was a recording in progress. Families would pick up the costs for the devices.

It’s currently had multiple hearings in the state Senate, where Sen. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) is one of its backers.

“When someone can’t speak anymore, when they’re so fragile as a senior, we need to put laws and policies in place to protect them. That’s what this bill does,” Antonio said. “I think there’s a peace of mind that comes with being able to do this.”

Piskor is concerned the bill won’t make it through the House, where it hasn’t received a committee hearing yet. It’s not the first attempt to get the legislation passed. The bill didn’t become law last year, Antonio believes, because it didn’t move through the legislative process early enough.

But now, as at least ten states have similar laws, she’s optimistic that it has a better chance this year of advancing.

In other states, proposals for video surveillance laws have failed largely because of privacy concerns. Those same concerns are shared in Ohio, Piskor and Antonio said.

“If you want some privacy, just don’t put a camera in,” Piskor said. “If I could’ve given up my mother’s privacy rights for her not to get abused, I would’ve done it in a heartbeat.”The legislation also requires a resident’s roommate to consent to the surveillance. If they don’t, the facility “shall make a reasonable attempt to accommodate the resident wishing to conduct authorized electronic monitoring by moving either resident to another available room,” the bill says.

Antonio also believes a camera could benefit the staff, acting as a check on claims made by residents.

Lucas County resident Paul Werner can think of several instances when long-term care staff had differing accounts of complaints made by his mother.

“Cameras would’ve helped me tremendously,” Werner said. “I couldn’t tell you how many times I ran through the nursing home, basically turning into an investigator.”

He frequented the halls of his mother’s nursing home while she was a resident. She died in 2019 after a battle with Parkinson’s Disease and close to two years in the facility.

He took turns visiting her in the nursing home with his siblings, something they never thought they’d have to do. And when the day finally came to find her a home, their options were limited. She needed specific care due to her condition that few nursing homes in the area could provide. The family wanted her close to keep an eye on her.

They checked in on her as many as five times every day. Some were better than others.

“There were many times when we walked in she would go hysterical the moment she would see us,” Werner said.

It was sometimes hard to understand his mother, he said. He understood the challenge staff had to realize what she wanted on some days. He told them that. But he also said, “What I expect 100% of the time is kindness, understanding, and patience.

“She didn’t always get that,” Werner said.

He said his family thoroughly discussed the possibility of putting a camera in the room but ultimately decided against it. If Esther’s Law was on the books when his mother was in the nursing home, the decision to put a camera in her room would’ve been a no-brainer for him.

For Piskor, hiding the camera ten years ago was a no-brainer to make sure his mother was safe. He hopes it won’t take another decade to see a bill bearing her name.

“We want to protect our loved ones in nursing homes. Cameras will do that,” Piskor said. “I couldn’t stop the abuse because I couldn’t see what was going on until afterward. But it did stop the abuse.”

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