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'Granny cam' installation stalled

March 20, 2002|BY LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - A high-ranking Maryland lawmaker scolded nursing home representatives Tuesday for breaking a promise to install videocameras on a trial basis.

"You've been jerking people around for a year and you've come back here to jerk us around," Environmental Matters Committee Chairman John A. Hurson said.

Industry lobbyists defended their efforts to put together a pilot program. They claimed they were stymied by the lack of a state grant.

"It sounds like my kids out there who don't get their homework done. The dog ate my homework. That's what this is. I think that's pathetic," said Hurson, D-Montgomery.

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Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, has been trying for three years to pass legislation supporting "granny cams" to deter abuse of senior citizens.

Lawmakers have hesitated because of fears that the cameras would invade privacy and increase staffing problems at nursing homes.

Hecht thought she made a breakthrough last session when the industry agreed to put cameras in two nursing homes and evaluate how well they worked.

A year later, there are no trial cameras.

Carol Benner, director of the state office of health care quality, said she tried to give a Montgomery County nursing home a $120,000 grant but the nursing home failed to put together a proposal that was specific enough.

The pilot was to be funded by fines collected from nursing homes that violate state regulations.

Adam E. Kane, a lobbyist for Mid-Atlantic LifeSpan, said the nursing home submitted a proposal that was rejected on its merits.

Hurson said it was clear that someone was not being truthful with the committee.

Kane and other lobbyists maintained that the nursing homes were willing to work on the pilot but the state failed to cooperate.

He also said a better way to address concerns about elderly abuse would be for the legislature to oppose budget cuts made by Gov. Parris Glendening that would hurt nursing homes.

"Our plan is to put a nurse in every room rather than a camera in every room," Kane said after the hearing.

While the cameras are not against the law, Hecht's legislation would set guidelines for their use and would add criminal fines and penalties for anyone tampering with video equipment.

Hecht has received national media attention on the issue, which grew out of personal experience.

Hecht walked into a Frederick, Md., nursing home to find her mother being verbally abused by a nursing home worker, she said.

Hecht's mother died six weeks ago at the age of 90. The legislation is named "Vera's Law" in her memory.

While the committee did not vote on the bill Tuesday, Hurson said he was getting frustrated that nothing has been done.

In addition to the legislation, he suggested the cameras be installed in a state-run nursing home and two private facilities.

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