Federal Investigation into Social Media and Nursing Home Abuse in San Diego

Snapchat_LogoOver the last several months, states across the country have been contending with incidents of nursing home abuse that involve social media. Now, according to a recent report ABC 10 News San Diego, federal authorities are “stepping in to make sure elderly residents of nursing homes and senior care facilities are not abused on social media.” The investigation, according to an article from NPR, comes after ProPublica released a series of reports that showed nursing home employees taking “demeaning photographs and videos of residents and post[ing] them on social media.”

Will an investigation by federal health regulators actually be able to put a stop to this kind of elder abuse?

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Issues Memo Regarding Social Media Abuse

As the federal agency that oversees nursing homes and certain other elder care facilities in California and across the country, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has issued a memo to the California Department of Public Health and to other state health departments throughout the U.S. that “outlines plans for how to deal with the abuse of patients on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat,” according to the ABC 10 News report. In addition, the memo explains that state health departments and individual facilities themselves have a responsibility to protect patients from this type of abuse.

One of the major cases in San Diego that led to the CMS memo was an incident that occurred back in October 2015 at LifeHOUSE Vista. We previously discussed the case in which an employee of the facility posted a partially nude photograph of a 90-year-old nursing home resident on Snapchat. Since that incident, ABC 10 News indicates that dozens more have occurred.

What does CMS want nursing homes in San Diego to do to prevent nursing home abuse on social media platforms? The requirement should be a relatively easy one to implement: CMS wants all nursing homes and elder care facilities in the state to “begin checking to make sure they have policies in place that prohibit staff from taking humiliating photos of residents.” For most of us, it should be obvious that taking humiliating photos of elderly nursing home residents and posting them on platforms like Facebook or Twitter constitutes nursing home abuse. Will policies actually prevent employees from continuing to perpetrate these harms?

Putting Residents First and Preventing Nursing Home Abuse

While it is not yet clear whether CMS’s memo will have an impact on nursing home abuse and social media, CMS has made clear that nursing homes simply need to do better. The NPR article quoted David Wright, the director of the CMS survey and certification group, who emphasized that “nursing homes must establish an environment that is as homelike as possible and includes a culture and environment that treats each resident with respect and dignity.

He went on to articulate how “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 towards the resident(s).” Wright signed the memo that went out to state health departments.

Since 2012, ProPublica has found 47 different incidents of nursing home abuse involving employees posted videos or photographs of residents on platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter, and these acts continue to occur. If you are concerned that your elderly loved one’s privacy has been violated, you may be able to file a nursing home abuse claim. An experienced San Diego nursing home abuse lawyer can help. Contact the Walton Law Firm today.

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