Nursing Home Abuse and Social Media

file5041240433770If you have an elderly loved one in a nursing home or assisted-living facility in the San Diego area, do you need to worry about whether abusive photos of your loved one will end up on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat? According to a recent article in The Washington Post, “posting abusive photos of the elderly on social media” has become an alarming trend in nursing home abuse cases. While most of us would like to believe that technology can only help seniors to have better lives, whether they are living independently or under the care of nursing home staff, the article should put Californians on alert to the emotional and psychological abuse that is happening at nursing homes across the country.

Dehumanizing Photos of Seniors and Emotional Abuse

As the article notes, advocates who work tirelessly to prevent nursing home abuse have identified a disturbing trend when it comes to elder abuse and social media: “nursing home workers across the country are posting embarrassing and dehumanizing photos of elderly residents on social media networks such a Snapchat, violating their privacy, dignity, and sometimes, the law.” Although many of these incidents are only now coming to light, the article intimates that numerous violations of patient privacy—that we know of—occurred back as far as 2012.

The article cites a recent study by ProPublica, which has now reported on 35 different cases of potential nursing home abuse in which healthcare workers “surreptitiously shared photos or videos of residents, some of whom were partially or completely naked.” As we mentioned, many of these employees relied on social media platforms to share these utter violations of patient privacy. Of the cases identified by ProPublica, 16 of them involved nursing home or assisted-living center employees who posted photos on Snapchat. In case you do not know about this social media platform, it is a service through which members can post temporary photos that disappear shortly thereafter.

In some of the cases, criminal charges have been filed. Indeed, back in October we discussed a San Diego facility in which an employee was accused of posting a video of an elderly patient in the shower without that patient’s permission. However, many more of the incidents have not resulted in criminal prosecutions. Do they amount to emotional elder abuse? And can patients and their families turn to the law to seek compensation for their injuries?

Threats Posed By Social Media to Patient Safety

The article notes that healthcare workers who post photos or videos of elderly nursing home residents without their permission may be, at the very least, violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). This is a federal law concerning patient privacy, for which violations can result in both civil and criminal penalties. But these privacy violations seem to be causing a substantial amount of harm that should be taken just as seriously as other forms of nursing home abuse.

To be sure, nursing home abuse has occurred with and without social media. But the presence of platforms like Facebook and Snapchat make abusive treatment easier—after all, many of these employees post photos and videos using their handheld smartphones.

Although this is “a new type of mistreatment,” according to the article, seniors who have been victims of this kind of nursing home abuse should discuss their claims with an experienced San Diego nursing home abuse attorney. An elder justice advocate at our firm can help. Contact the Walton Law Firm today to discuss your case.

 

See Related Blog Posts:

Improving the Image of Nursing Home Care

Allegations of Emotional Elder Abuse at San Diego County Facility