Among the worries related to having a loved one in a nursing home, social media isn’t usually top-of-mind. But as Twitter, Snapchat, and Facebook expand, it may be something families want to consider. A recent report details dozens of incidents where nursing home staff shared photos or videos of residents on social media, resulting in criminal charges, news stories, and of course, distress to the resident and their family.
Below, our nursing home abuse lawyers consider the legality of sharing photos and videos of residents on social media, and how this behavior points to more widespread mistreatment in these facilities.
In its report, ProPublica gathered inappropriate social media sharing information from court cases, news stories, and government inspection reports. Since 2012, it found almost 50 incidents of workers sharing humiliating photos or videos of residents on social media.
Click here for a full detailed list of ProPublica’s findings.
The report drove Senator Charles Grassley, of Iowa, to ask the Department of Justice and Office of Civil Rights to take action. In response, federal health regulators just announced plans to crack down on facilities that allow and workers who engage in this disturbing behavior.
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Click here for the official release by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
Sharing dehumanizing photos of residents is an example of mental and emotional nursing home abuse. All nursing home residents have the right to privacy, and the right to be free from abuse of all types (we discuss both below).
Mental and emotional abuse can include:
- Humiliating or demeaning residents
- Intimidation through threats or yelling
- Social isolation, or ignoring the resident entirely
Mental abuse can be verbal or nonverbal. It causes the resident to experience fear, shame, agitation, or degradation. If staff is found to be mentally abusing residents, it means the facility isn’t providing a safe environment, isn’t properly training or monitoring staff, or both.
The ProPublica report points to one specific incident that hits close to home. In 2014, a nursing assistant at Rosewood Care Center in St. Charles, IL recorded a coworker slapping the face of a 97-year-old woman with a nylon strap. The resident can be heard crying out, asking them to stop, as they laughed and continued.
The Right to Privacy
All residents have the right – through federal and state law – of privacy and confidentiality over his or her body, personal space, communications, visits, and medical care. Taking a residents’ photo or video without their consent is a violation of this right.
Further, only authorized staff should be present when providing residents with personal care, like bathing, eating, grooming and dressing. All residents must be treated with dignity and respect at all times, which includes removing them from public view during dressing or toileting, to prevent unwanted exposure.
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Privacy rights also include protection against purposefully agitating a resident to solicit a response, asking a resident to use inappropriate language, and other instances where a resident is demeaned, regardless of whether they consent. This is particularly important among residents with Alzheimer’s, dementia, stroke, or other cognitive impairments.
The Right to be Free from Abuse
Federal law states residents have “the right to be free from verbal, sexual, physical, and mental abuse, corporal punishment, and involuntary seclusion.” 42 CFR §483.13(b) Abuse (tag F223).
All nursing homes must have written policies that prevent these types of abuse, along with forms of neglect and misuse of resident property.
These policies must be updated consistently to keep up with new technologies, best practices, and law changes. Unfortunately, social media abuse is already occurring nationwide, and the law can’t keep up with the changing internet landscape. That’s why it’s so important for anyone who’s seen or knows of social media resident abuse to come forward.
Nursing homes must train staff on abuse prevention. When abuse does occur, the nursing home must report all allegations, protect residents from retaliation, conduct a complete investigation, correct problems that led to the abuse, and report findings of the investigation.
If a staff member sees an abusive photo of a resident on social media, they have a moral and legal responsibility to report it.
After the Fact
If social media abuse has already occurred, nursing homes can take certain steps to ensure the victim and all other residents are protected. These steps can include staffing changes, increased supervision, counseling for residents, and increased training.
Any nursing home that fails to take these steps can face lawsuits, citations, fines, and even termination from Medicare or Medicaid. The individual who posted the photos may face criminal and civil charges.
Snapchat alone has over 100 million daily users who post over 6 billion videos per day. That medical professionals take photos of residents without their consent is much more pervasive than we can imagine, and it must end.
The bottom line is that sharing dehumanizing photos or videos of residents on Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any other platform is abuse. If one type of abuse is occurring at a facility it’s very likely residents are suffering other forms of mistreatment as well.
We Can Help
Posting explicit photos is a new type of abuse, but it may help expose other, more secretive mistreatment, like over-medication and neglect. Workers that would engage in such malicious, unconscionable behavior are the same types of people who would ignore residents’ cries for help, allow them to fall repeatedly, leave them in bed for days to develop bedsores, and give them powerful drugs to control their behavior.
Our nursing home negligence attorneys know all the signs of a bad facility. We’ve been fighting them for 30 years, winning millions for injured residents and their families throughout the country. If you have any questions or concerns about elder abuse, contact us online, by phone, or on our own social media accounts, at NationalPILaw. We look forward to helping you.