“Social media abuse” describes a disturbing trend in our society that has made its way into nursing homes. Some nursing home employees are taking inappropriate or demeaning photos and videos of their residents and posting them on social media pages like Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram. Although “nursing home abuse” is usually associated with physical abuse or neglect, these images and videos, which are posted without the consent of the subject, violate a patient’s dignity and trust.
Disturbing instances of this conduct include photos of a long-term care resident’s genitalia, video of two elderly patients engaging in sexual activity, and photos of patient’s waste and bodily fluids. In Iowa, a demeaning photo of an elderly man was shared over social media. The patient had his pants down, and had defecated on himself. At the time this photo was taken, the state health department could take no action to hold the employee accountable because there were no policies or procedures in place to prevent or punish this type of conduct.
ProPublica, an independent investigative journalism organization, has been tracking these violations since 2015. Over the past few years, there have been 65 documented cases of social media abuse in nursing homes. However, it is likely that the actual number of cases is much higher.
Most of these cases involve the social media app Snapchat. Snapchat is an app that only shows photos or videos for a short period of time, before they are deleted. Vigilant Snapchat users can “screenshot” the images and report them to the authorities but in many cases the evidence of nursing home violations disappear after the time period for the post is up. Most of the reported cases involving Snapchat were identified because they appeared in government inspection reports.
Sometimes, when a person attempts to report abuse through the app, they are told that as a third-party reporter that nothing can be done and that only the victim can report these types of infractions. However, Facebook and Snapchat have come forward to say that they are working to stop people from posting abusive photos and videos.
Many of these cases involve conduct that was unarguably illegal, including taking and distributing photographs of patients without their consent. Some of the 65 cases identified by ProPublica journalists resulted in criminal charges against the perpetrators.
After the incident in Iowa in 2016, public entities have begun to recognize that action needs to be taken to stop this behavior.
State health departments were instructed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to ensure that they have policies in place to prevent this kind of conduct.
All forms of nursing home abuse are disturbing. Patients are vulnerable and many suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s. It’s important to be able to trust nursing homes to respect loved ones and their privacy.
If you suspect that a loved one has been abused or neglected, contact an experienced New Jersey nursing home abuse lawyer at Davis & Brusca, LLC. With offices located in Princeton and Trenton, we represent victims of nursing home abuse throughout New Jersey. Call us today at 609-786-2540or contact us online.