Privacy Violations of Nursing Home Residents Receives Attention

It’s a scenario few of us can fathom – those employed to provide care to the elderly or disabled not only treating those in their care with disdain, but taking photos or videos of such actions and displaying them on social media.

The latest of these invasions of privacy and dehumanizing acts was posted to Snapchat by a nurse in Wisconsin who had videoed another employee kicking the wheelchair occupied by a resident while fellow employees laughed as the resident attempted to kick back at the attacker.

This is only one of 47 such incidents of inappropriate photos or videos taken of nursing home residents since 2012, reported in full by ProPublica. These incidents may be only a partial accounting of all that have taken place, but these 47 incidents were those documented in government reports, the media or court records.

Some nursing home residents unable to give permission for their photos to be used publicly due to confusion or other cognitive decline, but whose photos were shared regardless resulted in misdemeanor charges for the photographer. These were standard type photos, a person sitting or standing fully clothed and having a photo taken, but due to the residents’ inability to grant permission to share publicly and no such permission obtained from the residents’ guardians or family members, it was illegal to post such to social media.

These were the least reprehensible incidents reported and might have had innocent intentions by the photo-taker. Other postings to social media by employees of nursing homes clearly had no such innocent intentions, with photos and videos of partially or fully naked residents, some unclean from personal waste, some being harassed by employees. No indignity was verboten to those unscrupulous enough to engage in such behavior, let alone save to photo or video to be shared with the world on social media.

What Remedies Are in Place to Prevent These Violations of Nursing Home Residents’ Privacy?

Nursing homes must adhere to HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, just as hospitals, physicians and other health providers are required to do. Nursing home certification laws, those laws that allow long-term care facilities to receive compensation from state and federal sources such as Medicare and Medicaid, also have strict rules about resident confidentiality, including the right not to be exposed publicly via photos or videos without obtaining appropriate permissions.

Any person who suspects nursing home abuse or neglect, including the taking of resident photos or videos or the posting of same to social media may contact the local Adult Protective Services or the Eldercare Locator services Monday through Friday at 800-677-1116 or by visiting the Eldercare Locator website. If you suspect immediate danger to a resident or residents, call 911 or the local police.

An additional avenue for reporting your suspicions of nursing home abuse or neglect is to contact the Long Term Care Ombudsman, a number that can be found via the Eldercare Locator service provided by the federal government.

What Actions are Being Taken on the State and Federal Level to Address Inappropriate Photos of Nursing Home Residents?

Many long-term care facilities have policies that prohibit any photo-taking devices on the premises, a good policy to have, but who polices adherence to such policies?

On Friday, August 5, 2016 the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued a notice to all 50 states that their long-term care officials must check the policies of all certified facilities to ensure each facility has a policy prohibiting nursing home staff from taking or using any photographs of the residents that would be demeaning or humiliating to them.

The August 5th notice also supplied details to nursing homes as to how to deal with infractions to such policies, including staffing changes, increased supervision of staff and appropriate follow-up counseling for the resident or residents involved. Nursing home staff must report an infraction of the inappropriate photo/video taking and or posting to social media to at least one law enforcement agency. Failure to do so can result in monetary penalties to the nursing home involved, including fines, penalties and termination from the Medicare program.

David Wright, director of the CMS survey and certification division, signed the August 5 notice, stating:

“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. 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).”

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