Late last year, journalism non-profit ProPublica revealed a troubling trend: Nursing home abuse and exploitation in the form of social media posts. The images and video clips are taken by staffers and show elderly and dementia patients captured in degrading and dehumanizing poses, conversations and actions.
Staffers post these images to various forms of social media, but mostly to Snapchat, a platform in which images are supposed to vanish after a certain period of time. But aside from the fact that such a violation can do damage no matter how long they are posted, the images are not actually impermanent because users can screen-shot and copy them.
ProPublica revealed at least 37 known instances from December 2012 through December 2015. Many more instances likely never came to light. More than half of those documented cases involved Snapchat.
Now, a number of lawmakers are calling for action from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Civil Rights division, as well as the U.S. Department of Justice.
Shortly after the expose was published, Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., sent a request to the Senate Committee on Aging to launch an investigation into this practice, calling it a form of nursing home abuse that demands immediate attention.
Then earlier this month, U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., submitted a request to the federal DHHS office, asking that this agency, which enforces federal health care privacy statutes HIPPA), to acknowledge how many nursing home patient privacy complaints it had received involving social media posts. Further, he asked whether the agency had imposed any civil penalties or criminal case referrals for these complaints and whether it had any intention of issuing guidance to nursing homes on how best to advise staffers on patient interaction with smartphones and social media.
Soon after, U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to the U.S. Justice Department, requesting information on how aggressive its pursuit has been against cases of nursing home abuse. Specifically, Grassley asked for information on any prosecutions of nursing home staffers who share degrading images of patients online.
Some of the disturbing images at issue involve patients who are partially or completely naked, using the shower, using the bathroom or engaged in conversations that compel them to say demeaning and offensive things.
Because many of these patients suffer from dementia and are elderly, they lack the physical and mental capacity to defend themselves or speak out. Relatives of some victims have been horrified to see their conservative, religious matriarchs and patriarchs using offensive slang and being exposed in such a dehumanizing way.
It is, without question, a form of abuse. The calls for action by the senators are at least a step in the right direction.
Interestingly, the data gleaned by ProPublica did not reveal any cases out of Florida. However, this does not mean our state is immune from it. If it is happening in other states, it has almost certainly occurred here. It may be simply a situation where those involved have not been reported or caught or where publicity around the incident has not gained traction.
If your loved one has been a victim of nursing home abuse in Fort Lauderdale, our compassionate, knowledgeable injury lawyers can help.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Senator Asks Privacy Regulators to Stop Abuse of Nursing Home Residents on Social Media, March 8, 2016, By Charles Ornstein, ProPublica
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