Edie Starr, of South Windsor, right, talks to her brother Burt Deane through the window at Manchester Manor Health Care Center. When Deane was fighting with coronavirus a few months ago, Starr and her older brother Phil Deane would communicate with Deane through thumbs up and thumbs down through the closed window. Burt recovered from the coronavirus. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org
Kathy Moore, left, talks to her sister-in-law Ann Marie Lagrange, of Windsor Locks, through the window at Manchester Manor Health Care Center.

A proposal allowing cameras and other monitoring technology in nursing homes won approval in the state House this week and now heads to the Senate for a vote.

While bills permitting the recording devices have been raised several times in Connecticut, there is a particularly strong push among advocates this year after COVID-19 tore through nursing homes, killing more than 3,800 residents and creating isolating conditions. Visitation was severely restricted, with residents only able to communicate via a phone or tablet – or through a window – for months at time.

The bill before the General Assembly, overwhelmingly approved by the House on Monday, would allow cameras, assistant devices like Amazon’s Alexa and other technology for monitoring and virtual visitation, but with several rules. The resident would be responsible for purchasing, installing and maintaining the technology. Each resident must have written consent from any roommates and adhere to privacy rules.

Nursing homes would be required to provide free internet access and a power source and must post signs notifying visitors that recording may be in progress. The facilities would be directed to establish policies and procedures for the technology.

“It addresses all the issues of technology. We really wanted to see that – everything about visitation, technology and use of technology,” Mag Morelli, president of LeadingAge Connecticut, said of the proposal. “We’re very supportive of the fact that the bill seeks to protect the privacy of residents within the building. That was our key concern.”

The measure is one of a number of pieces of legislation concerning reform in nursing homes. Bills addressing staffing levels, visitation, essential caregivers and other issues are being considered.

One proposal, which also permits cameras in nursing homes, would increase the mandatory minimum hours of direct care to 4.1 per resident per day, up from 1.9 hours, and mandate training in areas of care and infection control.

At least eight states, including Illinois, Texas, and Washington, allow cameras in nursing home rooms.

The use of cameras and other technology in nursing homes was recommended to the legislature in January by a working group tasked with analyzing problems in nursing homes and issuing recommendations for reform.

“We tell residents that these are their homes. They should be able to use any technology they see fit,” Mairead Painter, the state’s long-term care ombudswoman and a member of the advisory group, said in January. “It should be directed by the resident; they should be able to turn things on and off. They should be able to have this accommodation to meet their highest level of quality of life.”

“It should be whatever tool best suits them, whether it be for visitation, socialization, recreation, or if they feel for their own reasons – as far as cameras go – safeguards and protections,” she said.

Jenna is CT Mirror’s Health Reporter, focusing on health access, affordability, quality, equity and disparities, social determinants of health, health system planning, infrastructure, processes, information systems, and other health policy. Before joining CT Mirror Jenna was a reporter at The Hartford Courant for 10 years, where she consistently won statewide and regional awards. Jenna has a Master of Science degree in Interactive Media from Quinnipiac University and a Bachelor or Arts degree in Journalism from Grand Valley State University.

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