No industry opposition as bill permitting cameras in nursing homes progresses

An Iowa House subcommittee has given unanimous approval to a bill that would permit the use of surveillance cameras in nursing home residents’ rooms. This move aims to enhance safety and security within these facilities.

Eight months ago, nursing home lobbyists expressed their opposition to legislation that would permit the use of cameras in nursing homes. However, as of Tuesday, they have taken a neutral stance on the matter.

A proposed bill, House File 537, aims to allow the use of “granny cams” in nursing homes. These cameras would provide families with a live video feed of their loved one’s activities inside their room. Under the bill, if a resident shares a room, the roommate’s consent would be required to use the camera. Additionally, a notice would be posted on the door to inform visitors and staff about the presence of the camera.

After encountering significant resistance from the nursing home industry over the past few years, the bill has struggled to make progress. However, on Tuesday, there was a breakthrough as the three-member House Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee unanimously voted to advance the bill for further consideration by the full committee.

Brent Willett from the Iowa Health Care Association. (Photo courtesy of IHCA)

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During Tuesday’s meeting, Brent Willett, the head of the Iowa Health Care Association (IHCA), addressed representatives, stating that IHCA did not take a position on the bill in 2023 and continues to remain neutral on the bill in 2024.

According to Willet, the IHCA had a neutral stance on the bill in 2023, and they continue to be neutral on the legislation at present. Willet mentioned that they are currently organizing their thoughts and expressed the desire to collaborate with the committee as the process unfolds.

Chairman Rep. Joel Fry, a Republican from Osceola, expressed his gratitude to the lobby for their collaborative efforts in working towards a common goal. Despite encountering challenging discussions in the past regarding this bill, their aim has always been to ensure that Iowans receive safe and top-notch healthcare services in our facilities.

In conversations recorded and shared on the IHCA website last year, the association’s lobbyists assured nursing home owners and administrators in Iowa that they had exerted significant effort to defeat the bill proposing the use of cameras in nursing homes. Furthermore, they expressed their commitment to continue opposing such legislation in 2024.

During the initial days of the 2023 session, Merea Bentrott, a lobbyist for the IHCA, informed members of the association that she and her colleague had managed to persuade a legislator to change their position on the measure.

In March 2023, Bentrott informed IHCA members that they had opposed the bill for many years. She expressed her satisfaction by stating, “I’m pleased to announce that yesterday we successfully defeated that legislation… It’s great news. The bill faced little support in the Senate. We engaged in early discussions with them, and they eventually agreed that camera legislation would not be a matter of concern this year. We were confident in our ability to defeat the bill, and we were successful in preventing it from reaching a subcommittee in the House. This is a significant victory for us.”

In April 2023, Bentrott once again discussed IHCA’s ongoing efforts to combat the use of cameras in nursing homes. He conveyed to the nursing home owners that the association was fully prepared and determined to address this issue. Bentrott stated, “We were able to take decisive action early on in the session and successfully remove this concern from our list of priorities.”

Merea Bentrott, the lobbyist for the Iowa Health Care Association, is seen in the photo provided by IHCA.

After the session concluded in May 2023, Bentrott cautioned IHCA members about the potential reemergence of the issue in 2024. She emphasized the importance of taking proactive measures to prevent its progression, stating, “Our best chance is to squash it before it gains any traction.”

The IHCA lobbyists’ recordings were removed from the organization’s website shortly after the Iowa Capital Dispatch published their contents in December.

During Tuesday’s subcommittee meeting, Rep. Timi M. Brown-Powers, a Democrat from Waterloo, expressed her concerns regarding the potential impact of cameras on patient dignity and privacy. She admitted that she wasn’t aware of whether the video footage captured by these devices was shared with residents’ families or solely accessible to care facility staff.

In light of the current staffing challenges in Iowa nursing homes, she emphasized the need to take action. She stressed that simply standing idle is not a viable option. However, she did express some concerns that need to be addressed to ensure that we are providing the utmost care, preserving dignity, and maintaining safety for all individuals involved.

Rep. Brooke Boden, a Republican from Indianola, expressed her support for the bill and expressed her excitement that it has resurfaced. She conveyed her belief that Iowa has the capability to provide this protection for the most vulnerable citizens. In addition, she highlighted the importance of the cameras in safeguarding not only residents but also nursing home workers in situations where caregivers may be unfairly implicated.

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