Abusive Photos of Nursing Home Residents Posted to Social Media
Social media is posing a growing threat to patient privacy, especially in nursing homes. According to a report co-published by ProPublica and The Washington Post, nursing home workers are posting embarrassing and degrading photos of residents to popular social media sites like Snapchat.
The study identified 35 instances since 2012 in which nursing home workers have posted photos or videos of residents who are often partially or completely naked. Almost half of those cases involved Snapchat, a social media site where users post videos and photos that appear for only a few seconds before disappearing with no record.
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ProPublica was able to identify these incidents through court cases, government inspection records and news reports.
Wisconsin Cases of Abuse
The report included three cases from Wisconsin nursing home facilities.
A July 2014 Snapchat photo and video from the Villa Pines Living Center in Friendship featured a resident with one leg in a wheelchair with the word Jerk written across it. A staff member was seen kicking the residents wheelchair, after which the resident kicked back.
In July 2014, a Snapchat photo posted by a worker was reported to the Nazareth Health and Rehabilitation Center in Stoughton in which a resident was lying in bed naked and surrounded by feces.
Both Villa Pines Living Center and Nazareth Health and Rehabilitation Center are managed by Health Dimensions Group in Minneapolis.
In November 2012, two Brookview Meadows workers in Green Bay posted Snapchat photos and videos of nude and partially nude residents.
A New Form of Abuse
Unfortunately, nursing home abuse is not new. These incidences, however, highlight the new and growing threat posed by social media that violates patient privacy, dignity and often the law.
Although some cases have ended in criminal charges, the majority have not. Many suspect that these types of incidents are underreported partially because many of the victims have dementia and do not recognize what is happening.
The Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Health and Human Services, which enforces patient privacy law, has not issued any penalties to nursing homes for social media violations. It also has not provided any recommendations to healthcare providers on the topic.
The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a regulator of nursing homes, has cited individual facilities for privacy deficiencies and plans to expand the definitions of abuse, exploitation, sexual abuse and neglect in updated rules for the assisted living facilities.