The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, advocacy groups, and state governments are making a collective effort to stop social media abuse of nursing home residents. An increasing number of people are using social media applications such as Instagram and Snapchat on their cell phones and other electronic devices. Unfortunately, there has also been an increase in the incidences of inappropriate and damaging images and recordings of nursing home residents on these platforms by the very people who have been charged with their care.

CMS Implores Facilities to Develop Social Media Policies

In August of 2016, CMS issued a directive to state health departments indicating they should require nursing facilities to develop social media policies. Further, CMS specified that state health departments should prioritize such complaints of mistreatment and quickly initiate investigations to substantiate or refute them. In cases when there is evidence that a caregiver took, transmitted, or otherwise displayed a demeaning photo of a nursing home resident, CMS recommends state officials notify the appropriate licensing agency for possible disciplinary action.

What Is Elder Abuse?

There are many forms of elder abuse, including physical abuse or sexual abuse, psychological or emotional abuse, and financial exploitation. Physical abuse occurs when a caregiver hits, slaps, or pushes a resident, causing bodily harm; while sexual abuse involves forcibly making an older adult participate in or watch sexual acts. Emotional abuse, on the other hand, involves threatening, yelling at, or saying hurtful words to long-term care facility patients. Misusing or taking the assets of nursing home patients by caregivers for their own personal benefit may be considered financial exploitation.

When Does Posting on Social Media Cross the Line?

Nursing home residents are entitled to the same privacy protections as patients in doctors’ offices and hospitals. Photos or videos taken and shared on social media without the knowledge and consent of nursing home residents cross the line into abuse or exploitation. Sometimes, caregivers take pictures or videos of nursing home residents participating in group activities, giving advice, or engaging in other light-hearted activities. However, other images or recordings are taken of residents in compromising or embarrassing situations, getting teased or otherwise mistreated by caregivers, or getting physically abused. While no photos should be shared without permission from residents or their families, the posting of images that degrade, humiliate, shame, or otherwise affect the personal integrity of residents is an abusive act.