The Des Moines Register recently co-published a report with ProPublica, a public interest group, about the uptick in reports of nursing home employees using social media as a way to share demeaning photos and videos of residents.
After several stories made headlines last year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) called on nursing homes to develop training and policies regarding resident abuse. Specifically, CMS encouraged facilities to educate staff about improper use of cell phones and social media as a means of sharing ‘demeaning or humiliating’ photos and videos. Regardless of the push for facilities to prevent and correct staff members from using Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and other platforms to share offensive content, the report discovered at least 18 cases of such abuse in the last year alone, with 6 of those in Iowa. The authors note that the number of incidents has increased since 2015 and that the 18 recent cases of which they’re aware are likely just the tip of the iceberg. In all, ProPublica states that they are aware of 65 cases of social media posts of nursing home residents since 2012.
An Increasing Problem
Just last month, we covered the story of a Certified Nursing Assistant in a Texas nursing home that was charged with mocking a resident who suffered from Alzheimer’s and posting the video to Snapchat. Snapchat, unlike Facebook and Instagram, deletes the post as soon as the recipient has viewed it, which makes tracking a post more difficult than through other social media platforms. Snapchat’s parent company, Snap Inc., recently released a statement saying “Images of nursing home abuse will never have a safe or welcome place on Snapchat. This content not only violates the law and our guidelines – it offends our common decency.” The app will soon offer functionality that allows users to immediately report any form of abuse. However, although offensive content can be removed from social media, to the victims and their loved ones, the damage has already been done.
While there is much outrage over the posted content, very little preventative or corrective measures are in place to send the message that abusive videos of vulnerable residents will not be tolerated. The report references resources such as the American Health Care Association, who offers training to nursing home employees on proper social media use and avoiding abuse. However, without a federal law and consistent punishments, very little progress has been made. Last summer, when CMS released a statement speaking out against resident abuse through privacy violations such as Snapchat posts, they stated that nursing homes must have a policy regarding resident abuse in place and that training on resident abuse must be given to all employees who work with residents. CMS also has said that state surveyors will begin looking for these policies with each site survey and can request to see them at any point in time. However, a consistent nationwide policy is not in place, nor are the punishments clear for nursing homes that fail to implement a policy or their employees who commit such offenses.
Policies and Training Aren’t Enough to Defer Cruel Offenders
It is promising to see that CMS is taking action against degrading and humiliating social media posts of vulnerable nursing home residents, but with ProPublica and news headlines telling us that these violations are still happening, we know that more still needs to be done. While it is not talked about as frequently as physical abuse or neglect in a nursing home, any mental harm done to a nursing home resident is a form of abuse. Posting unauthorized photos or videos of a resident is a violation of their privacy and is therefore considered abuse. According to CMS, mocking a resident, taking a picture while they are bathing, using the toilet, grooming themselves, while in any state of undress, or comprised position (unaware, asleep, or lacking the physical or mental capability of expressing themselves) and sharing the photo or video with anyone is a violation of the rights of a resident. While it seems almost everything nowadays is fair game for a laugh, hurting the elderly by violating their privacy shouldn’t be. It’s abuse and it’s inhumane.
If you have a loved one who has been the victim of mental abuse, whether through a shared photo or video or otherwise cruel treatment at a nursing home, we are here to help. Our nursing home abuse attorneys have passionately fought for families like yours for over 25 years. Time is of the essence in cases involving social media or any other form of abuse, so please contact us as soon as possible for a free consultation of your case.