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Hecht's visit to nursing home prompts bill

February 10, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - During an impromptu visit to her mother's nursing home last fall, Del. Sue Hecht was horrified to hear a nursing assistant yelling at her 88-year-old mother, who was in tears.

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"I had never seen my mother cry," said Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington.

That and disturbing stories she has heard about abuse and neglect in nursing homes has prompted Hecht to file legislation in the Maryland General Assembly.

Hecht wants to allow nursing home residents to have videocameras in their rooms.

She believes the presence of such cameras could prevent abuse. The cameras also could be used to prove or disprove abuse allegations made by patients.

Under the proposed legislation, a nursing home employee who damaged or tampered with the surveillance equipment would face a fine of up to $2,000 and up to 90 days in jail.

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The resident or their guardian would have to agree to the camera being in the room.

The resident would pay for the camera and the nursing home would be required to provide the wiring and mounting space.

Hecht has continued to keep her mother at the nursing home despite the incident she said she witnessed.

All nursing homes face the problem of finding qualified workers, she said.

"I've talked to other families. This is not unique. It's systemic and we really need to help," Hecht said.

If her effort is successful, she hopes to install a camera in her mother's room. She has also hired a private duty nurse for her mother.

Hecht hopes nursing homes won't resist the effort, in light of the fact the cameras might also support the actions of employees.

"I see it as positive, not punitive," she said.

The Health Facilities Association of Maryland hasn't formed an opinion on the bill yet, said spokesman Mark Woodard.

Washington County Commission on Aging Director Fred Otto said Hecht's idea sounds reasonable.

"It would provide peace of mind to the resident to know the would-be abuser would be under surveillance," he said.

He said the high cost could be a drawback. Hecht agreed.

Hecht's law would be the first of its kind in the country, she said. A public hearing has not been scheduled.

Recognizing the needs of nursing homes, Hecht said she also plans to file a bill to raise wages for nursing home employees by $2 an hour.

Right now, overworked nurses' aides can make more working at a convenience store, she said.

There is a host of legislation this session concerning nursing homes due to the findings of a statewide task force.

Other bills would create more state oversight of nursing homes and provide sanctions for facilities that have deficiencies.

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