An investigative report uncovered disturbing instances of nursing home workers sharing photos or videos of patients on social media, with some cases involving the popular video messaging app Snapchat.
The ProPublica review found 35 cases since 2012 of employees at nursing homes and assisted living centers sharing photos or videos of residents being partially or completely naked – including at least 16 cases on Snapchat, where photos appear for a couple of seconds and disappear without leaving a record.
Some cases – unearthed by ProPublica using government reports, court cases, and media reports – led to the filing of criminal charges, including one in California in early December against a nursing assistant. Most have not pressed charges, which could cite violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
“The incidents illustrate the emerging threat that social media poses to patient privacy and, at the same time, its powerful potential for capturing transgressions that previously might have gone unrecorded,” stated the report.
Residents Exposed on Social Media
These cases emerge as a new type of abusive treatment at nursing homes, which had been documented to include sexual assault, sedation using antipsychotic drugs, and keeping urine-soaked beddings unchanged.
Here are some instances of this form of nursing home abuse, as detailed by ProPublica:
- February 2014 – A nursing assistant in Washington sent a co-worker a Snapchat video of a resident who was sitting on a bedside toilet, her pants below her knees as she sang and laughed.
- March 2014 – An Illinois nursing assistant recorded a video of another worker lightly slapping a 97-year-old dementia patient’s face using a nylon strap. The woman was heard saying “Don’t! Don’t!” as she was struck and the employees laughed.
- February 2015 – An Ohio nursing assistant made and uploaded on Snapchat a video of residents taught to say, “I’m in love with the coco” (“coco” a slang word for cocaine), with a banner reading “Got these hoes trained” across a female resident’s chest.
- Wisconsin cases – A one-legged resident had a photo and video of him shared on Snapchat with the word “Jerk,” written across it while another resident was reported lying in a bed naked and surrounded by feces. In a third case, two workers took photos and videos of fully or partly nude residents, and posted them on the same app.
Statements from Nursing Homes, Federal Action
In the first case, Prestige Post-Acute and Rehab Center in Centralia, Washington, issued a statement saying it fired the erring worker and established new, more rigid cellphone and social media rules in the workplace.
“We take these situations very seriously,” part of its statement read.
In the second case, however, nursing home Rosewood Care Center did not issue a response after repeated requests from ProPublica.
The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, tasked to enforce the privacy law governing these abuses, has not penalized a single nursing home for these social media related violations, or even made recommendations to the homes or health providers.
Writing updated definitions of term such as “abuse” and “exploitation” related to privacy is the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is charged to regulate these nursing facilities. In an email, its spokesperson Lauren Shaham asserted that all residents should be free from exploitation or abuse.
While many nursing homes ban using cellphone while on the job, there are challenges in enforcing such regulations.
Snapchat alone has over 100 million active users every day.
Photo: Ted Van Pelt | Flickr