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Social media: the new platform for nursing home abuse

According to the Pew Research Center, over 2.5 billion people in the world use social media. Social media can be a useful way to keep connected with loved ones; however, many nursing home residents have fallen victim to social media abuse.

Since 2012, there have been 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. According to reports, five of the incidents were in Ohio.

Laws 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.”

Ohio nursing homes must also adhere to the Ohio Nursing Home Residents’ Bill of Rights. This law provides the following:

  • Residents have the right to be free from “physical, verbal, mental, and emotional abuse and to be treated at all times with courtesy, respect, and full recognition of dignity.”
  • The facility must “develop and implement written policies and procedures that prohibit mistreatment, neglect, and abuse of residents.”

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 work hours. Finally, talk with your loved one about the dangers of picture taking cell phones and social media abuse.

You are in a position to protect your loved one from nursing home abuse and exploitation. Taking this role seriously and understanding the legal rights you and your loved one has will be crucial.

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