The widespread use of smartphones and tablets with photographic and video capability has opened a whole new world to those wishing to keep in touch with family and friends. Social media sites make it easier than it’s ever been to share photos and videos across the globe, instantly. As beneficial as Social media is for communicating with loved ones, it’s also led to embarrassment, violation of privacy and even blatant abuse for some nursing home patients.
The Dismal State of Nursing Homes in Illinois
Across the country, nursing home care is under fire. The neglect rate in Illinois nursing homes is comparatively high. Illinois nursing homes earned a disappointing “F” average in a 2014 rating of facilities by a watchdog group. This placed Illinois as the 41st worst state in the country, when it came to the state of nursing homes. The 2015 rankings are expected to be equally grim.
Lawmakers are scrambling to make changes. Fortunately, new laws now allow for cameras and recording devices to be placed in nursing homes, to monitor potential abuse. However, it seems that not all cameras in Illinois nursing homes are being used for good.
Dehumanizing Photos of Nursing Home Residents go Viral
Workers from nursing homes across the country are posting inappropriate photos of nursing home residents across several social media platforms. This is not only an invasion of privacy, in some cases it’s against the law. From nude and semi-nude photos to images of patients being placed in embarrassing or abusive situations, the number of social media posts that take advantage of nursing home residents is on the rise.
A staggering 35 instances were identified by ProPublica since 2012. Each incident involved employees from nursing homes and assisted-living centers who shared pictures or videos of patients, many of whom were in various states of undress. Some of these cases have led to criminal charges, but most have not. Charges spanned from abuse violations to minor misdemeanors.
Though posting a patient’s photo without permission violates the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a federal patient privacy law, certain social media sites make photos hard to identify and trace. At least 16 of the above cited incidents involved the site Snapchat, which posts photos for just a few seconds, after which they disappear with no record. Snapchat officials have voiced their disdain for their service being used for this purpose, but this does little to help the abused.
The Impact of Social Media Postings on Nursing Home Abuse Cases
Unfortunately, nursing home abuse is rampant in Illinois and across the country. Social media is praised for its positive role in bringing some abuse cases to light. Posting explicit photos is new territory, however, and legislation might soon be forced to address it. Any Chicago nursing home abuse attorney is keenly aware of the changing digital landscape and how it is affecting abuse cases.
Some nursing home officials are instituting stricter cell phone policies, in light of these recent cases. This is helpful, but not 100% effective. As technology advances and taking discreet photos and videos becomes easier, so does the potential for abuse.
The Extent of the Problem
Many of the incidents cited by ProPublica were found by searching inspection reports, filed by the government. Most of the photos were discovered by way of tips from co-workers or members of the community rather than nursing home officials.
The true number of instances will likely never be known. Many patients with dementia do not realize what has happened and those with communication issues are unable to make a report. The Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for enforcing privacy laws and to-date, no nursing home has been penalized for a violation involving social media.
Responding to the Problem
Nursing home patient advocates urge family and friends to be vigilant, when it comes to monitoring social media. Caregivers and those responsible for patients should inquire with nursing home administrators about their social media and recording policies. It’s important to keep in mind that even though a facility has a social media or cell phone policy in place, this does not guarantee that it is enforced.
Most nursing home employees are caring and professional individuals, but modern devices have made it easier to take advantage of those who can’t fight back. Any time an instance of nursing home abuse is encountered or suspected, it should be reported to government authorities and a Chicago nursing home abuse attorney. Both Illinois and federal laws are designed to protect the rights of nursing home patients and a Chicago nursing home abuse attorney can provide appropriate options for a legal response.