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Opinion: Protect seniors now and later

Jim Runestad

I have long championed the right of nursing home patients to have video cameras installed in their rooms so that their loved ones can look after them from afar. Now Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has issued Executive Order 2020-37, which extended the ban on the public visiting health care and residential care facilities to May 3 to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 to our state’s most vulnerable residents.

Executive Order 2020-37 defines residential care facilities as nursing homes, assisted living and hospice care facilities, among others. The order further clarifies that these senior homes “must make best efforts to facilitate visitations with individuals under their care by phone or other electronic communication” devices.

I am pleased that residents may finally be permitted the choice to have cameras installed in their rooms. This is a strong first step in acknowledging the right of nursing home residents to maintain a connection with their loved ones via electronic devices.

Elder abuse is a growing problem in Michigan as our population continues to age. A resident’s room is their home, and nursing home residents have the right to feel safe in their home.

Nursing home residents have the right to feel safe in their home, writes Runestad.

The National Council on Aging estimates that as many as 5 million older Americans are the victims of abuse each year. While other states can include video as evidence of these crimes, here in Michigan nursing homes can still deny residents the ability to install a camera. In turn, our fathers and mothers, our uncles and aunts, our grandparents, our loved ones who helped shape and guide our lives, are not offered the deterrent of cameras. In my opinion, they deserve the utmost care and respect in their final years.

Paula D. Cunningham, state director of AARP Michigan, recently weighed in on this issue.

“Nursing home residents have a right to communicate with their loved ones, and their families or other caregivers need to be able to monitor the residents’ care and well-being,” Cunningham said. “It only makes sense to allow voluntary virtual visitation and electronic technology to assist this vital two-way communication. The current pandemic has thrown a spotlight on this issue, but this technology should always be available for those who want it.”

Cameras in nursing homes help family members monitor the care their loved one is receiving. They can also serve as a type of insurance to ensure that our loved ones are receiving proper care at all times. My legislation, Senate Bill 77, ensures that this right is enshrined in Michigan law and will continue beyond the declared state of emergency we are currently operating under.

My legislation would offer the opportunity for residents to put a camera in their room — if they so choose. All roommates in the room must sign off, and other protections have been put in place to protect the privacy of the resident. At the end of the day, a senior’s right to install a camera in their own room should be permitted.

Michigan State Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake

It is disappointing that it took a public health crisis to crack open the door to a right that should already exist for nursing home residents and their family members. It is my hope that this trial run will convince all stakeholders involved of this going forward. Seniors should continue to be protected for years to come.

State Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, represents Michigan’s 15th District.