Crackdown on Social Media Exploitation in Nursing Homes

Elder woman and man holding hands

After a series of ProPublica reports have documented a number of incidents in nursing homes throughout the United States that involve the exploitation of elderly residents on social media platforms, federal health regulators have announced plans to crack down on offending employees. In recent years, numerous demeaning photographs and videos that show nursing home and assisted living residents who are naked, surrounded by feces, being harrassed or humiliated, and even deceased have popped up on social media platforms like Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook. In some of the photos and videos, the residents are even shown being abused. Unfortunately, authorities and nursing homes alike have discovered that most of the laws that were written to protect elderly residents were developed long before social media existed, which has made prosecution difficult.

In a recent notice that was sent to state health departments, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that oversees nursing homes in America, spelled out clear guidelines that prohibit employees from taking humiliating or demeaning photos or videos of residents. The memo also requests that state health departments, which help enforce rules for the government, promptly investigate any reports of videos and photos, and notify state licensing agencies of offending employees so they can be investigated and possibly disciplined. According to the CMS, nursing homes are obligated to protect the privacy of residents, protect them from abuse, and quickly investigate all abuse allegations. Nursing homes that fail to follow these guidelines can face citations, fines, and/ or removal from the Medicare program. Exploitation on social media, according to the CMS, is a form of abuse, and it should be handled as such.

Protecting Nursing Home Residents from Exploitation

While the U.S. Department of Justice and other regulators evaluate the issue of exploitation on social media, and attempt to develop new federal regulations, the nursing home industry has begun to take things into their own hands.

  • Banning Cell Phones: Many nursing homes have begin banning employees from carrying cell phones while in resident areas. Unfortunately, such restriction is difficult to enforce because cell phones are easy to hide.
  • Training: Some nursing homes are conducting mandatory training sessions to educate employees about nursing home abuse and how to prevent it.
  • Monitoring: Nursing homes often hire third party companies to monitor social media and report any suspected wrong doing.