States Target Elder Exploitation on Social Media

It’s a safe bet to say your grandmother probably isn’t on Snapchat. That’s especially true if she’s living in a nursing home. Meanwhile, the app is extremely popular among the younger cohort. It has also fast become known to those who advocate for protecting the elderly from nursing home abuse and exploitation. iphone6

Why? Because an increasing number of nursing home staffers have been caught taking photographs of elderly residents in demeaning or humiliating circumstances and then posting those images on the social media platform.

One case reported out of Wisconsin just recently involved an 87-year-old man suffering dementia who had just lost his wife of many years and his leg. His son placed him in a nursing home down the street, WGNTV reported, and he would wander the halls calling out for his wife. One day, he was particular agitated. A nurse aide, apparently frustrated, snapped a photo of him and shared it with her friends, captioning the image, “JERK!” His son later said an employee was kicking his father’s wheelchair and the Snapchat image showed him kicking back as other staffers laughed in the background. 

This likely would have gone unnoticed, except for the fact that a co-worker happened to see it and reported it to state health officials.

Whether the images alone may be grounds for action is questionable, as a recent series by ProPublica revealed. However, it can shed light on a larger pattern of problems at a facility. It also sometimes does capture evidence of actual abuse and neglect.

Although nursing home abuse and neglect occurred long before Snapchat existed, some have argued that it provides an incentive for staffers to take and share troubling photos.

But it seems the laws haven’t caught up with the technology. For example, when a certified nursing assistant in Iowa shared a photo online of a nursing home resident, pants around his ankles, covered in feces with an embarrassing caption, state officials investigating soon learned that the staffer hadn’t actually broken any law. State statute protects dependent adults from sexual exploitation. However, because none of the photos showed the man’s genitals, the staffer hadn’t actually broken the law, despite health officials characterizing the act as “disgusting” and “humiliating.”

Now, senators in that state are working to enact a law that would specifically make it illegal to share pictures of unwitting nursing home residents or other vulnerable adults.

Officials also say they are pressing Snapchat to update their processes to make it easier for third parties to report suspected abuse. As it now stands, Snapchat only allows the individual who is pictured to report abuse. However, nursing home residents and vulnerable adults are typically unable to report abuse of themselves. That leaves them and their families little remedy when these kinds of images turn up.

At the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, officials say that while they have taken action against nursing homes for poor care, they have yet to pursue any cases involving allegations against nursing home employees misusing social media or electronic devices to record elder residents. While officials say they agree such conduct is deeply troubling, there is not specifically a law under which to prosecute it.

That said, our Winston-Salem nursing home abuse lawyers know that such actions violate the rights of residents – including their right to privacy and their right to be treated with dignity. If your loved one has been victimized in this way, our offices may be able to help.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

As cases multiply, officials scramble to stop abuse of nursing home residents on social media, July 14, 2015, By Charles Ornstein and Jessica Huseman, ProPublica

More Blog Entries:

Maree v. Neuwirth – Identifying Defendants in Nursing Home Abuse Lawsuit, June 26, 2016, Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog

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