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New York law neither authorizes nor prohibits ‘granny cams’

In the past, the New York attorney general has authorized secret recordings to catch nursing home personnel suspected of abusing patients. Suspicious families have similarly taken matters into their own hands when they believed their loved ones were being abused or neglected.

As of January, Louisiana joined a handful of states that legalize “granny cams” in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. While New York is not among those states, they are not specifically outlawed either. So can you or can’t you?

Granny cams are a legal minefield

Hidden cameras are perfectly legal in the privacy of your own home. You can monitor your kids after school or spy on your child care provider (“nannycam”). But it’s a different story in a nursing home or assisted living center. There are two main issues with cameras in elder care facilities:

  • Privacy – Cameras can serve as a deterrent to abuse or evidence of mistreatment. But you are also spying on your loved one in vulnerable or embarrassing moments. Even if your family member consents, their roommate may not. Being videotaped while working also takes a toll on morale and retention of caregivers.

  • Liability – Owners, administrators and insurers of elder care facilities have little incentive to allow cameras inside patient rooms. A video recording is more likely to provide “Exhibit A” evidence of abuse or neglect than it is to disprove bogus lawsuits. If the recording accidentally captures another resident or reveals certain medical treatments, it could violate the HIPAA regulations on disclosing patient data.

What does New York law say about granny cams?

Ten states have passed laws that authorize spouses and families to put videocams in the rooms of nursing home/assisted living patients. New York does not specifically legalize or ban granny cams.

New York is a one-party consent state for wiretap laws. Secret recordings are legal as long as least one of the parties is in the know. But that only applies to phone calls or audio recordings, not hidden cameras. Which leaves granny cams in limbo.

If you do decide to install a camera in your loved one’s room, it might be wise to:

  • Inform the facility you are setting up the camera. Some facilities expressly forbid granny cams.
  • Obtain the written consent of any roommates.
  • Post a sign indicating to staff and visitors that the room is under video surveillance. The mere presence of a camera is a powerful deterrent.

If you are denied permission, the other option is to notify the facility and contact state authorities if you suspect abuse. Nursing homes are mandated to report and investigate complaints, and law enforcement may authorize surveillance to catch the offenders in the fact.

Cameras are just one tool against elder abuse

Not all abuse is captured on tape. It often occurs in bathrooms or other areas of the nursing home, away from security cameras. The best way to keep tabs on your loved one is to visit them frequently (but at random times) and to be vigilant for any change in their appearance, health or demeanor.

If your loved one shows signs of physical abuse, sexual assault or medical neglect – with or without video evidence --  talk to a personal injury lawyer about the possible legal remedies.


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