TRENTON — As the demand increases for home healthcare providers in New Jersey, so does the potential for abuse towards their patients.

In order to limit this abuse, and give peace of mind to New Jersey families who've entrusted the care of their loved ones to someone else, the state has launched a program that provides residents with micro-surveillance cameras that can be easily hidden in the home.

Available for pickup in Newark and Cherry Hill, the hidden cameras will be loaned up to 30 days, at no charge, to individuals who provide identification, contact information and undergo a brief training session.

"You are inviting a virtual stranger into your home to spend hours with your loved one, sometimes to spend the night, and you really don't have any idea how they're going to behave when no one is watching," said Attorney General Christopher Porrino, who announced the new program at a Thursday news conference in Trenton.

"The problem is sometimes you can’t tell, just by looking at a resume or conducting an interview, as to whether or not you’re hiring someone who’s scrupulous or you’re hiring an abuser."

New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino displays a micro-surveillance camera embedded in a cell phone charger. (Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ)

During the event, Porrino unveiled never-before-seen surveillance footage of three in-home healthcare providers abusing their patients. In one video, a young man on a ventilator is slapped by an aide as she attempts to make him comfortable in bed. In another, a woman suffering from Alzheimer's is roughed up while being fed by her caregiver. The third video shows a caregiver ignoring her elderly client who had collapsed on the floor.

"The risks are huge, especially when your loved one is someone who's unable to communicate that something is going wrong or they're being mistreated," Porrino said, noting not all victims show "red flags" such as unexplained bruises, weight loss and agitated behavior.

According to Porrino, the state is prepared to meet the demand for the hidden cameras, which can cost as much as $300 and are not readily available to the public.

When distributed to residents, the cameras will be secured in "ordinary objects that you can find around anyone's home." Porrino showed an example of a micro-surveillance camera embedded in a cell phone charger, but he would not disclose which household item(s) would be used for the program.

The cameras' memory cards can record up to eight hours of video, and the camera runs on a motion detection system so footage is only captured when someone is in the room where the camera is hidden.

Porrino said he's hoping word of the Safe Care Cam program "will travel like wildfire through the home healthcare community" and make unscrupulous individuals think twice before abusing the frail or disabled.

According to the Office of the Attorney General, incidents of disciplinary actions against the state's Certified Homemaker-Home Health Aides have been rising. Since January, nearly 300 CHHAs have been disciplined for alleged criminal acts on or off the job, compared to nearly 200 in 2015 and nearly 140 in 2014.

In the past decade, the overall number of certified CHHAs has increased from 26,618 to 43,506, the office said.

Residents interested in obtaining a camera can call 973-504-6375 and leave a voice message.

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