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Video cameras might pan rooms in nursing homes

Security cameras are popping up everywhere: at ATMs, in public plazas and in elevators.

And now they could show up in nursing homes.

The Florida Senate passed a bill Wednesday to start a pilot program that would place surveillance cameras in two nursing homes for a year.

If two nursing homes don't volunteer, two will be selected among homes that have a less than stellar track record, said bill sponsor Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville.

After that, it's up to the Legislature to act on the results of the pilot project, said Brown-Waite, who must leave the Senate this year because of term limits.

"I hope that next year's Legislature takes it up," Brown-Waite said.

The idea was part of the original nursing home overhaul lawmakers passed last year but was replaced with a study commission to review the issue instead.

That commission, made up of state health care officials and representatives of the Attorney General's Office, said Florida should allow people to put so-called "granny cams" in family members' rooms, as Texas did last year, as an abuse prevention measure.

"The likely deterrent effect on resident abuse and neglect, together with the benefits to management, residents and their families and friends, suggest that the voluntary use of cameras in nursing homes and resident rooms . . . would work well in Florida," said the report, delivered to the Legislature in January.

There were nearly 3,000 abuse and neglect allegations in nursing homes, assisted living facilities or by home health nurses that were at least partly verified in the year that ended last July, the report said.

But industry officials strongly oppose cameras.

Bob Asztalos, director of legislative affairs for the Florida Health Care Association, a nursing home trade group, said putting cameras in nursing homes will only make it harder for the homes to keep staffers. One nursing home that tried out cameras lost workers who refused to stay under those conditions, Asztalos said.

The bill now heads to the House for consideration.