A new type of elder abuse has arisen in the form of social media. A series of ProPublica reports several documented cases of nursing home employees taking demeaning photographs and videos of residents and posting them on social media. These abusive incidents are occurring in nursing homes and assisted living facilities with content being posted on social media platforms like Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram. The employees have posted degrading pictures and videos of residents. They also include images of abuse.
Federal health regulators have announced plans to crack down on the social media nursing home abuse. State health departments help enforce nursing home rules for the federal government. Therefore, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) called on state health departments to check that all nursing homes have policies prohibiting staff from taking demeaning photographs of residents. The Centers also asked that state officials quickly investigate such complaints and report offending workers to state licensing agencies for investigation and possible discipline.
Director of the CMS survey and certification group, David Wright, stated in a memo to the state health departments:
Nursing homes must establish an environment that is as homelike as possible and includes a culture and environment that treat 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 individuality dehumanizes the resident and creates an environment that perpetuates a disrespectful and/or potentially abusive attitude toward the resident(s).
CMS said that nursing homes have a responsibility to protect the residents’ privacy, to prohibit abuse, to provide training on how to prevent abuse, and to investigate all allegations of abuse. If nursing homes fail to do so, they can face citations, fines, and possibly termination from the Medicare program.
Also, Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa called on other federal agencies to take action addressing this problem. He sent letters to the Department of Justice and to the Office for Civil Rights within the Department of Health and Human Services asking that rules and protections be put in place to prevent and punish these types of abuses. He also called on social media companies to pay more attention to these posts. Nursing homes are legally obligated to keep their residents free and safe from abuse.
ProPublica has identified 47 instances of social media nursing home abuse since 2012. Some states have taken harsh steps to prevent social media nursing home abuse while others have not. In Iowa, it was discovered that no state law existed to prevent certain demeaning photos from being posted. Officials are trying to change this. In Indiana, social media nursing home abuse has not been a problem. Indiana’s nursing homes strive to provide the best care to their residents, while protecting them from possible cases of abuse.
When cases of social media nursing home abuse do happen, the federal government has set uniform standards for how such cases should be written up by investigators and the severity of discipline that should be meted out. Facilities around the nation are receiving training to respond swiftly when allegations are brought to light. Many facilities have decided to ban the use or possession of cell phones by employees when in resident areas. Raising awareness about this type of abuse will help to prevent it from happening as often in the future.