A ProPublica review found 35 cases since 2012 in which nursing home or assisted living workers surreptitiously shared photos or videos of residents on social media. At least 16 cases involved Snapchat.
This story was co-published with the Washington Post.
Nursing home workers across the country are posting embarrassing and dehumanizing photos of elderly residents on social media networks such as Snapchat, violating their privacy, dignity and, sometimes, the law.
|Janet Hartranft at the Newaygo Medical Care Facility|
ProPublica has identified 35 instances since 2012 in which workers at nursing homes and assisted-living centers have surreptitiously shared photos or videos of residents, some of whom were partially or completely naked. At least 16 cases involved Snapchat, a social media service in which photos appear for a few seconds and then disappear with no lasting record.
Some have led to criminal charges, including a case filed earlier this month in California against a nursing assistant. Most have not, even though posting patients’ photos without their permission may violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the federal patient privacy law that carries civil and criminal penalties.
The incidents illustrate the emerging threat that social media poses to patient privacy and, at the same time, its powerful potential for capturing transgressions that previously might have gone unrecorded.
Abusive treatment is not new at nursing homes. Workers have been accused of sexually assaulting residents, sedating them with antipsychotic drugs and failing to change urine-soaked bed sheets. But the posting of explicit photos is a new type of mistreatment — one that sometimes leaves its own digital trail.
In February 2014, a nursing assistant at Prestige Post-Acute and Rehab Center in Centralia, Wash., sent a co-worker a Snapchat video of a resident sitting on a bedside portable toilet with her pants below her knees while laughing and singing.
The following month, one nursing home assistant at Rosewood Care Center in St. Charles, Ill., recorded another using a nylon strap to lightly slap the face of a 97-year-old woman with dementia. On the video, the woman could be heard crying out, “Don’t! Don’t!” as she was being struck. The employees laughed.
And this February at Autumn Care Center in Newark, Ohio, a nursing assistant recorded a video of residents lying in bed as they were coached to say, “I’m in love with the coco,” the lyrics of a gangster rap song (“coco” is slang for cocaine). Across a female resident’s chest was a banner that read, “Got these hoes trained.” It was shared on Snapchat.
The woman’s son told government inspectors that his mother, who had worked as a church secretary for 30 years, would have been mortified by the video. Days after the incident, the home changed hands and is now known as Price Road Health and Rehabilitation Center. Greystone Healthcare Management, its new owner, said it “provides extensive, on-going training, support and oversight to insure that we provide patient centered care.” (The prior owner, Steve Hitchens, said the incident happened days before the home was sold and he does not recall details.)
In a statement, PrestigeCare said it fired the employee, alerted authorities and instituted new, stricter cellphone and social media policies. “We take these situations very seriously and are thankful that our own internal procedures alerted us so promptly to the issue.”
Rosewood Care Center did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
“Something hasn’t happened now unless there’s a selfie or Facebook posting about it,” said Marian Ryan, the district attorney of Middlesex County, Mass., whose office is pursuing elder abuse charges against two women who posted numerous videos of nursing home residents on Snapchat. “The use of social media is just pervasive across every aspect of society.”
ProPublica identified incidents by searching government inspection reports, court cases and media reports. Ryan said she suspects such incidents are underreported, in part because many of the victims have dementia and do not realize what has happened. (Continue Reading)
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Nursing Home Workers Share Explicit Photos of Residents on Snapchat