Across the country, nursing home employees have been violating the rights of nursing home residents through social media, posting humiliating pictures and videos of residents against their will and without their knowledge. In 2012, a non-profit investigative newsroom found 35 instances of nursing home employees dehumanizing residents on social media networks; uploading pictures of residents fully and partially nude. These instances bring to light the potential threat that social media presents to patient privacy. Although nursing home abuse is nothing new, exploitation of residents through social networks is a new form of abuse, one that leaves a digital trail.
Nursing homes are generally unaware of their employee’s activity on social media, being that most homes do not use social media, especially newer social media outlets such as Snapchat. Snapchat is a video messaging application that allows users to take photographs, record videos, add text and drawings and send them to a specific list of recipients. Snapchat media does last more than ten seconds and are only available for 24 hours, after which they disappear. A snapchat posting is not as easily accessible as a Facebook or Twitter posting because the post can be shared with only a select group of friends. The incidents that are reported to homes’ management are often reported by fellow staff members or other members of the community.
Facilities have been cited for inadequate privacy policies by the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, who will be explicitly addressing the issue of social media in its new definitions of “abuse,” “neglect,” “exploitation,” and “sexual abuse.” CMS spokeswoman, Lauren Shaham , stated “nursing home residents must be free from abuse or exploitation.” Although this is true, the exponential growth in the use of Snapchat will make this a difficult battle. Snapchat responded by saying that these type of incidents are against the company’s Terms of Service, violating users promise to respect the privacy of others. They also stated that there is a division dedicated to reviewing abuse reports and taking action when such violations occur.
In Rochester, NY at St. Ann’s Home for the Aged, former nursing aid Ericha Brown, posted a video pulling a residents hair, saying “The boss lady said that if you don’t wash the dishes she will slap the black off you.” The video was posted on Facebook, tagging other employees with the caption “I miss these mornings.” The resident’s grandson stated that the incident was very distressing because we will all age and should not be treated this way when we enter a facility. Brown was arrested for violating the Nursing Home Patient Bill of Rights and New York State Health Laws by posting a video harassing a resident; she was formally charged with three counts of Willful Violation of the Health Laws. New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced that abuse and exploitation by medical professionals of nursing home residents on social media will not be tolerated.
Many homes ban the use of cellphones at work; however, they have trouble enforcing these rules. In some instances, employees have been allowed to continue working despite having been warned about using their phones on multiple occasions. In addition to cellphone use on the job, social media presents an additional problem for which there is no precedent.