Elder Abuse and Invasion of Privacy on Social Media

Q: What level of privacy and care are nursing home residents entitled to from their caregivers?

When the time comes to place a loved one in a nursing home it’s difficult under the best circumstances-- even if the person expressed this wish to their estate planning attorney. Fortunately, with skilled Medicaid planning and/or long-term care insurance, the financial obstacles to nursing home care can be navigated. Worries and questions concerning guardianship for seniors can also be addressed by legal counsel.

But sadly, money isn’t the only worry when it comes to placing a loved one in a nursing home or assisted living facility.

Elder abuse and invasion of privacy by caregivers are rampant in nursing homes, according to independent investigative group, ProPublica. Incidents are on the rise nationally as well as in Indiana, with 2016 cases to date already surpassing last year’s totals. An average of one of every four incidents takes place in Indiana.

We’ve all heard of worried family members placing hidden video cameras in a loved one’s room to record incidents of suspected abuse by caregivers and then handing the devastating evidence over to the authorities.

But there is a new and even more disturbing trend in elder abuse and privacy invasion these days. Not only do they subject the elders in their care to physical or emotional abuse or humiliating violations of their right to privacy, but these so-called “caregivers” are recording and broadcasting the abusive incidents on social media themselves!  And taking the time to hit “record” arguably adds a chilling element of premeditation and planning to the despicable behavior.

In some incidents, residents are photographed while toileting or covered in fecal matter or engaging in embarrassing behaviors and in others they are being taunted and abused. The photos and videos were sometimes widely shared on sites like Facebook® and Instagram® and other times shared one-to-one on Snapchat® with co-workers or friends. Often, another co-worker sees and reports the incident. Depending on the situation, the workers are counseled, disciplined, fired, and even prosecuted.

Most nursing homes have policies in effect prohibiting the use of cell phones and/or picture-taking in areas where residents are to avoid any intentional or unintentional invasion of their privacy. Even in cases where no bad intent exists, many residents are not capable of fully understanding or giving their consent to having their photos taken or published.

While still prohibited, some of the incidents did not rise to the horrific level of others, including one where an apparently caring aide snapped a photo of only two hands-- her own hand holding the hand of a resident—with the caption “I am holding her hand til she falls asleep” and another where two workers were photographed together but a patient’s name on a chart was visible in the photo. Clearly, the presence of photo-taking cell phones in sensitive areas like nursing homes is an invitation to trouble for staff and residents alike.

The Round Rock, Texas law firm of Gerald Winters, P.C.  has extensive elder law and guardianship for seniors experience. Call or contact me at 512-270-3807. 

Posted in Elder Law

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