Vulnerable and voiceless: why Florida lawmakers need to allow cameras in nursing homes

by | Feb 8, 2024



Stephanie Sifrit is a teacher who lives in Bradenton.

There’s nothing more heart-wrenching than finding out a loved one was the victim of a horrific crime. That pain is only intensified when the person wronged is an aging parent who cannot fully comprehend what is happening to them.

The Florida legislative session is at the halfway point, and lawmakers must act now to protect these most vulnerable residents, particularly those in nursing homes and similar facilities. We need our laws to ensure that families can properly monitor their loved ones during the times when no one is watching.

For many families, a nursing home or long-term care center is the most appropriate place for loved ones to receive the specialized care they need. When families make this difficult decision, they hand over an enormous amount of trust to the administrators and staff at these centers. The vast majority of these caregivers operate with the highest level of care and compassion. But, sadly, there are a handful of bad actors – and one of them turned my mother into the victim of a heinous act.

A few years ago, my father and I had to Baker Act my mother because her dementia had advanced to where she required a higher level of care than we could provide ourselves. Before she went to this particular nursing home, I pleaded with the administrators to allow me to install a camera in her room, for both her safety and my comfort. They refused, citing the center’s internal policies. Unfortunately, Florida law offers no protection or right for families to place these cameras in the rooms of their loved ones. After a few weeks, we brought my 85-year-old mother home, which is when we discovered signs that she had been sexually assaulted.

You can only imagine the pain, guilt, anger, and outrage we felt as a result of this ordeal inflicted on her by an employee. The police launched an investigation, collected evidence, and concluded that an employee at the center had attacked and sexually assaulted her (2023-CA-528). Though she had no recollection of the attack, the evidence and bruises were inescapable.

I have no doubt that if there had been a camera in the room, it might have deterred a potential criminal – and certainly captured evidence that could be used to hold him responsible. That’s why I am making one simple request of Florida lawmakers: pass legislation that gives families and designated guardians the right to place a camera in their loved ones’ room if they so choose, without fear of retribution. Such a camera would be disclosed as appropriate and would serve as a necessary tool in the fight against these unspeakable crimes to our state’s most vulnerable residents.

This legislation wouldn’t cost a single dollar of state funds, but it would provide invaluable peace of mind to countless families while undoubtedly reducing the number of crimes against people who are in no position to defend themselves.

State lawmakers are discussing and debating a number of pressing issues this session, but providing an opportunity for families to speak up for those who are unable to advocate for themselves is an issue that easily rises above partisan lines and is one worth acting on now.

I urge you to join me and ask your legislators to create a right for families to install a camera in their loved ones’ rooms. The mother, grandmother, aunt, or other loved one it saves from the horror my mother endured could be yours.

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