Woodstock families should be aware of and alert for a new disturbing form of nursing home abuse. Workers in nursing homes throughout the United States are posting photos and videos of elderly residents on social media sites, such as Snapchat. Many of these photos are embarrassing and dehumanizing to these residents as in some instances, the victims are partially or completely naked. Thus, these postings violate the privacy and dignity of the elderly victim, in addition to breaking the law.
A Hidden Abuse
For those not familiar with how Snapchat works, the user will upload a photo or video to that media site. The photo or video posting will only exist online for a few seconds. After that time, it disappears without leaving a record that it existed. Most posting incidents go unreported until either an employee speaks up or someone stumbles upon a posting.
What's at Stake?
In addition to the humiliation that victims of this abuse and their families experience, posting these images online without permission may be considered a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Violating this federal act can result in civil and criminal penalties if a nursing home abuse attorney is hired to investigate.
As deplorable as these posted images may be, they bring attention to the fact that workers are abusing patients. This type of mistreatment provides proof of the abuse and often leaves a digital trail leading to abusers.
How this Problem is Being Addressed
There are severe penalties for violating HIPAA by sharing abusive images or other protected health information (PHI). Civil penalties may range from $100 to $1.5 million, while criminal penalties may result in up to 10 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines. Licensed employees that are found guilty of violating HIPAA risk the loss of their medical license, their job and possible lawsuits. Because of these severe consequences, some healthcare organizations have chosen to institute social media policies for their employees.
The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is responsible for regulating nursing homes. As part of its fight to protect the elderly, the agency is in the process of writing new definitions for "neglect," "abuse," "exploitation" and "sexual abuse" in updating the rules used to govern nursing homes. By doing so, the intent is to reduce the abuse and exploitation of nursing home residents.