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Nursing Home Workers Glorify Resident Abuse Online


A string of events across the country is illustrating that as technology and social interaction changes, so does the nature of nursing home abuse and elder abuse. According to a Washington Post report, the news organization ProPublica has identified dozens of dehumanizing acts by nursing home workers involving social media. Though not involving physical injury, these actions are humiliating and stressful for both the residents and their families.

Privacy violations a growing problem

The ProPublica investigation found many examples of nursing home workers who have posted embarrassing photos of elderly nursing home residents, some of whom were naked, on social media sites. More than a dozen of the instances involved the app Snapchat, which flashes a photo for a few seconds before it is erased. Though the app does not leave a lasting impression, sharing patient photos without permission may be a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

To compile its numbers, ProPublica plowed through government reports, court cases, and media reports. Its numbers show there is reason to believe this type of treatment is on the rise; the data revealed 22 cases in the past two years but only 13 cases in the two years before that. Like other types of nursing home abuse, inappropriate conduct is most likely highly underreported, especially when committed with an app like Snapchat, which deletes the evidence. In fact, most of the confirmed instances were brought to light because another employee reported it.

Consequences of online nursing home abuse

Examples of the disturbing exploitation include:

  • In March 2014, a nursing home assistant in Illinois recorded a video of a co-worker using a strap to lightly slap a 97-year-old woman with dementia as the employees laugh
  • In February 2015, a nursing home assistant in Ohio recorded a video of residents who had been trained to repeat gangster rap lyrics
  • A nursing assistant in Washington, in February 2014, sent a co-worker a Snapchat video of a resident singing and laughing on a toilet

The trend of abuse by social media is a double-edged sword in that it violates patient privacy while causing humiliation, but it also publicizes abuse that in another day might have been kept secret. Nothing that happens on the internet remains private, so perpetrators leave a trail of their own misdeeds.

Emotional abuse of nursing home residents

Elder and nursing home abuse is not limited to physical harm; it includes emotional abuse, humiliation, and invasion of privacy. Armed with the online evidence, some jurisdictions are bringing elder abuse charges against nursing home employees who post videos of residents. The evidence can also be used in a personal injury lawsuit to hold the perpetrator civilly liable.

Both physical and emotional abuse leads to a complex set of emotions such as fear by the victim and anger and guilt from the victim’s family over the inability to prevent it. But the law provides options to hold the perpetrator responsible.

If you or a loved one have been the victim of nursing home abuse, call South Carolina personal injury attorney, Michael Jeffcoat. Mr. Jeffcoat fights for victims across the state. For a free, no-obligation evaluation of the facts of your case, call (803) 200-2000.

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