It's clear that the rise of mobile technology has led to increased social media usage in the workplace. However, as a result of social media apps such as Snapchat and Vine, nursing homes across the country are now facing a new problem: The emergence of elder abuse on social media. Over the past three years, ProPublica has identified at least 35 instances in which nursing home and assisted-living center employees knowingly shared photos or videos of residents, some of whom were partially or completely naked, across social media platforms. 16 of these cases were reported on Snapchat, a social media service in which photos appear for a few seconds and then disappear with no lasting record.
In fact, most of these cases violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), a privacy law that prevents employees from posting patients' photos or health record without their permission. Some of the cases have resulted in criminal charges of elder abuse. The shared videos and photos often involve patients that did not or cannot give expressed consent--including patients with dementia or Alzheimer's. In February 2014, a nursing assistant in Centralia, Washington sent a co-worker a Snapchat video of a resident who was sitting on a bedside portable toilet with her pants below her knees, laughing and singing. Another case involved the recording of a nursing home assistant striking the face of a 97-year-old woman with a nylon strap. A majority of the nursing homes associated with elder abuse cases have fired the at-fault employee and instituted stricter cell phone and social media policies.
Marian Ryan, the district attorney of Middlesex County, Mass., believes nursing homes are not doing their part to prevent these types of incidents. "Something hasn't happened now unless there's a selfie or Facebook posting about it," says Ryan. "The use of social media is just pervasive across every aspect of society." Ryan's office is currently pursuing its own claim against two women who posted videos of nursing home residents on Snapchat.
In response to the negative publicity received from such cases, Snapchat has released a statement condemning those who participate in sharing elder abuse on its platform. "We believe that elderly people should be celebrated and cared for with respect and compassion. We have a dedicated Trust & Safety team that reviews abuse reports and takes action when they become aware of a violation, and we comply with valid legal requests from law enforcement." New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office released its own statement regarding a high-profile case in Erie County.
Stricter cell phone policies and harsher punishments for policy violations are expected to be instituted in nursing homes and assisted-living centers as a result of these claims.