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Nursing Home Workers Violating Resident Privacy Via Social Media Posts

Elder in WheelchairNursing home workers continue to violate residents’ rights by posting inappropriate photos of them on social media. The steady rise in elder abuse incidents suggests that nursing homes are not doing enough to train employees and safeguard resident privacy.

As we previously discussed on this San Diego Injury Blog, the high-tech form of elder abuse made headlines last year after a ProPublica investigation revealed that nursing home workers are increasingly taking humiliating pictures of residents and posting them on SnapChat and other social media platforms without their consent.

In response to the ProPublica report, the Inspector General of the Federal Department of Health and Human Services sent an alert to 50 State Medicaid Fraud Control Units. It directed investigators to be increasingly aware of social media nursing home abuse and investigate complaints accordingly.

Despite increased attention on the elder abuse issue, ProPublica recently reported that it uncovered 18 additional incidents involving unauthorized photos and videos of nursing home residents on social media platforms in the last year. Below are some of the most recent incidents:

  • Earlier this year, at the Clarksville Skilled Nursing & Rehab Center in Iowa, a community member notified the administrator that an employee sent a Snapchat photo of a resident’s buttocks and a staff member holding a bowel movement in the palm of a gloved hand. The photo’s caption said something along the lines of "This is what I do at my job." No fewer than 3 staff members to receive the photo failed to report it to the facility's administration. In fact, according to an inspection report, one staffer said "it did not cross her mind that it was wrong to take a photo and send it out on Snapchat.”
  • At an assisted living facility in Florida, one medical assistant posted a Snapchat video of two residents having sex. After confessing to detectives, the employee was fired, arrested, and subsequently charged with one count of video voyeurism and one count of video voyeurism dissemination. She has since pleaded not guilty.
  • A nursing assistant at a Wisconsin facility sent a Snapchat picture of a resident's inner thighs and genitals (taken while the resident sat on the toilet) to a former employee of the facility. The resident's face was not in the picture but the former employee recognized the sweater she was wearing.

As San Diego elder abuse lawyers, we are appalled and saddened that our most vulnerable population is being subjected to such disrespectful treatment. We are also discouraged that additional action has not yet been taken to address the abuse. ProPublica reports that Snapchat is implementing a system that allows users to report abuse directly within the Snapchat app. The Department of Health and Human Services has also stated that it is drafting social media guidance for healthcare providers; however, there is no timeline for its release.

Contact a San Diego personal injury attorney at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation if you or someone you love has been victimized while under the care of a nursing home facility.