Elder abuse in nursing homes is a sadly common occurrence. The National Center on Elder Abuse reports that over 50 percent of nursing home staff admitted to mistreating patients. For the over 3 million older Americans living in care facilities and their families, the dangers are real. The most common forms of elder abuse include neglect, physical abuse and psychological abuse. A new threat has emerged recently, however, from the growing use of social media platforms. Using apps like Snapchat, healthcare workers have been sharing personal, embarrassing and alarming photos and videos of their patients.
Social Media and Elder Abuse
Recently, Delaware Senator Tom Carper called on the Office for Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Health and Human services to investigate issues of elder abuse involving social media and to offer guidelines to nursing homes to combat this growing problem.
Carper cited a ProPublica report detailing 37 known incidents in which a healthcare worker shared a photo or video of a facility resident. The federal government has not taken any action against employees in these cases, but some local officials have pursued civil and criminal charges.
In December, the California Attorney General prosecuted an employee who was subsequently convicted of elder abuse and invasion of privacy after the employee posted a video on Snapchat of a partially nude resident getting into the shower. A number of other states have seen similar cases.
In addition to elder abuse and invasion of privacy, abusive employees may be in violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which requires providers to maintain the security and privacy of patient information.
What to Do If You Suspect Abuse
It can be difficult to determine if a nursing home resident has been subject to this treatment. Many of those abused have physical and mental limitations that prevent them from reporting the abuse. They may have dementia or may be incapable of communicating the abuse. Further, those who can report the mistreatment may not do so out of fear of retaliation or continued abuse. Often, these cases come to light after other employees or someone who has viewed the photo or video reports the abuse. If you find that your loved one’s rights have been violated through social media, you should:
- Document the abuse if possible by saving a copy of the photo or video.
- Report the abuse to facility officials.
- Report the abuse to the Illinois Adult Protective Services or the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services.
If someone you love has been a victim of elder abuse, the experienced legal team at the Tapella & Eberspacher Law Firm may be able to help. Chat live with a member of our team to find answers to your questions and learn how to protect the rights of your loved ones in Illinois and Missouri.