Quebec unveiled a new regulation recently that allows residents of long-term care homes to install surveillance cameras in their rooms — without having to tell employees or the facility. And while the change has union representatives concerned, experts say it’s not a black-and-white issue.
The draft regulation states a resident, or resident’s representative, can install a monitoring mechanism — concealed or not — “only to ensure the safety of the user or that of the user’s property, or to ensure the quality of the care and services provided to the user, in particular to detect a case of user maltreatment.”
The regulation is understandable considering the fact it involves people leaving very vulnerable relatives in long-term care situations, said Teresa Scassa, Canada research chair in information law at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law.
And there have been incidences recently at care homes, with videos showing “shocking stuff,” she said.
“But, at the same time, you’ve got employees working at very difficult, often stressful, jobs under constant video surveillance, and that certainly does raise issues for their privacy in the workplace.”
Another influence could be the recent Vigi Santé decision in July, in which the Quebec Court of Appeal said employers have a right to use camera surveillance at their workplaces, as long as they don’t intend to directly monitor workers and it’s for a legitimate reason.
The case concerned a family who installed a camera that provided live-streaming of their family member at a long-term care home.
There is a need for some kind of balance between competing rights in this context, said Scassa.
“On the one hand, there’s the concern over the care for the resident by their loved ones but, on the other hand, there are privacy implications for employees and there are also privacy implications in cases where rooms are shared for other residents, and family members of the other residents who may be captured on surveillance cameras.”
This legislation is about preventing elder abuse, not monitoring employees of health services, according to Pierre Blain, director general of the Regroupement provincial des comités des usagers (RPCU) in Montreal, a network that works to protect the rights of users of health and social services.
“People feel they are not listened to, and if there was more empathy from the administration, perhaps we will not have to have these kind of cameras displayed,” he said. “The legislation will permit the residents themselves, if they have reason, of course, to install that kind of camera — but in the bylaws, it’s really about ‘We feel we have to have a reason to do so.’”
Many places already have cameras at the doors or in the corridors for resident safety, said Blain.
“The difference now is really that you can have it in your room. The principle of it is the fact that when you are living in that kind of place, it is like living at home, and the room is your private home.”
And if a resident suspects theft, for example, the surveillance could prove it was a family member, another resident or a visitor who actually was the thief — not an employee, he said.
“From our point of view, it is a protection for the employees because we will have the real reason,” he said.
“That’s why we’re saying, for the unions or for employees, it’s kind of a protection for them… and in some cases, it would show that an accident is an accident also, because very often we (hear of) people who fall on the floor but the employees were not there — they were there after to help — and then perhaps people were saying, ‘Well, they were there but they did nothing,’ but the camera will show that was not the real story.”
And other employees who work outside health services are familiar with camera surveillance, such as those at convenience stores, said Blain.
“We should feel the same thing this way — it is for their security and to display the fact that they work well. If they have nothing to hide, there’s nothing to hide.”
However, because the regulation talks about quality of care, it may lead to complaints around issues that fall far short of abuse, said Scassa, such as: “I don’t like the fact the attendant is only in the room for 20 minutes a day when I think it should be one hour a day” or “I don’t find this person to be friendly enough,” she said.
“It might turn into that kind of thing where complaints are being made about employees because the perceived standard of care is not what the family members would want — but it’s not abuse.”
The worry is this approach becomes an easy way for the government to wash its hands of any problems by saying, “Don’t worry, there’s cameras there, that’ll take care of everything,” said Jeff Begley, president of the union Fédération de la santé et des services sociaux (CSN) in Saint-Donat-De-Montcalm, Que.
“I think a lot of our members are going to look at it and say, ‘We don’t need a camera that’s looking at me all the time.’”
On the other hand, if something happens and the video surveillance shows the employee did nothing wrong, it will be another indication she’s doing a good job, said Begley.
“In most cases, the problem isn’t the people that work there, the problem is the services aren’t available that people need, so hopefully some residents or their representatives… when they see on the videos part of the problem is we never see anybody come into the room because there’s not enough people working there, hopefully we’ll be able to sit down with the patient and confront the employers to say, ‘Let’s look at the real problem and try and find solutions.’”
Thus far, employees haven’t been saying they want to challenge the new rules — yet, he said.
“It’s a bit of a wait-and-see mindset, and the other thing is we’ve reassured our members that if there’s negative things that are not intended by the law that happen, then we will be with them if we have to do grievances or whatever, a political organization, to denounce what’s happening, then we’ll do it, we’ll be ready to do it, so that’s hopefully reassuring for most of our members.”
Thankfully, some of the concerns raised by the union have been addressed, said Begley, such as removing the possibility of identification so workers can’t be recognized if someone posts a video on social media.
But it’s still unclear what will happen if the surveillance captures improper care because of a lack of resources, and that leads to sanctions against the employee, he said.
“I don’t think this is any magic bullet; it may give some residents peace of mind, and it may, if somebody has bad intentions, then it may at least get them thinking, ‘I’d better be careful.’ And if it does just that, that’s not a bad thing, that could be a good thing. But I’m not waiting for enormous results.”
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