The federal government announces it will now be cracking down on nursing home facility employees who take and post disrespectful photos of residents on social media outlets. A recent ProPublica report has documented employees of nursing home and assisted living facilities using Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram to post pictures of residents who are naked, covered in feces, or even deceased. The report also documents images of abuse against residents.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has encouraged state health departments to ensure that all nursing home facilities have regulations in place that prohibit staff from taking photos of residents and to investigate and discipline employees whenever a complaint is made. David Wright, the director of the CMS survey and certification group, said, “Nursing homes must establish an environment that is as homelike as possible and includes a culture and environment that treats each resident with respect and dignity. Treating a nursing home resident in any manner that does not uphold a resident’s sense of self worth and individually dehumanizes the resident and creates an environment that perpetuates a disrespectful and/or potentially abusive attitude towards the resident(s).”
CMS said, “Nursing homes have a responsibility to protect residents’ privacy, to prohibit abuse, to provide training on how to prevent abuse and to investigate all allegations of abuse. If homes fail to do so, they can face citations, fines and theoretically even termination from the Medicare program.”
Members of the federal government are also contacting the social media companies themselves, calling on them to pay more attention to these images. The Office for Civil Rights is working on its own guidance related to social media but has not released it yet. In the recently released report, ProPublica identified 47 instances since 2012 in which workers at nursing homes and assisted living centers shared photos or videos of residents on social media networks, including three recent incidents. At a California facility, an employee took a video of a co-worker passing gas on the face of a resident and posted it on Instagram. In the investigation of the incident, the resident reported that facility employees pass gas in his face as often as every month. As a result, an employee resigned and a police report was filed.
Not all states are taking steps to protect nursing home residents who are victims of social media abuse. Just last month, Iowa state officials discovered it was not against state law for a nursing home worker to share a photo on Snapchat of a resident covered in feces because his genitals were not visible. Many facilities ban the use of cell phones by employees when they are with residents, but many facilities feel these rules are impractical to enforce.
Social media use increases each year and without rules in place to discourage abusive activity and protect residents’ privacy, the sharing of these degrading images of residents will likely increase as well. While the problem cannot be solved overnight, nursing home facilities and the federal government should be aggressively pursuing a plan to protect these residents. Nursing home residents and their loved ones should also report any abusive behavior or unprofessional conduct to the facility’s staff members when it occurs.
If abusive behavior like this keeps occurring and the facility doesn’t step in and make changes to deter its employees from taking part, you owe it to yourself or your loved one to contact a Louisville, KY nursing home abuse lawyer to see if filing a lawsuit might be a possibility. If you wish to learn more, contact Thomas Law Offices for more information.