Over 3.6 billion people in the world use social media. It can be a useful way to keep connected with loved ones. However, many nursing home residents have fallen victim to social media abuse.
ProPublica recently conducted an investigation into inappropriate social media posts by nursing home employees. It uncovered at least 65 incidents of nursing home workers sharing inappropriate photos and videos of residents on social media platforms, such as Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram.
Laws and regulations that protect nursing home patients
Taking pictures of residents – no matter the nature of the image – without their knowledge, might be considered exploitation under the law. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires health care providers to ensure patient confidentiality. If an image shows a patient’s face, it is likely in violation of HIPAA privacy rights.
Unfortunately, because social media has only emerged in recent years, federal law does not specifically address the legality around sharing images of nursing home patients on social media sites. However, the federal Nursing Home Reform Act states that nursing home residents have the “right to be treated with dignity and respect.”
Michigan nursing homes must also adhere to the requirements issued by the Michigan Department of Community Health. They require that:
- Residents have the right to personal privacy and confidentiality – including with written and telephone communications and with personal care.
- Residents have the right to be protected from neglect, abuse and misuse of their property.
While not stated specifically, sharing inappropriate images of nursing home residents on social media sites would likely violate these laws.
What can you do to protect your loved ones?
Research and visit nursing homes in your area to determine which one is the right fit for your loved one. While you are visiting, discuss the cell phone policies for employees during working hours. Finally, talk with your loved one about the dangers of picture-taking cell phones and social media abuse.
While it’s impossible to single-handedly prevent your loved one from harm, there are steps you can take to help protect your loved one from nursing home abuse and exploitation. Taking this role seriously and understanding the legal rights you and your loved one have will be crucial.