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Is social media being used to abuse nursing home patients?

NewsNursing Home Neglect   February 8, 2019

Posting an image on social media for a laugh is fine — as long as you aren’t dehumanizing and degrading someone else in the process. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s happened to a number of nursing home residents. For every incident that’s been reported, experts fear that there could be more that are yet to be uncovered.

In 2015, the investigative news service ProPublica published a report detailing 47 incidents involving workers who shared demeaning photos or video of nursing home residents through online forums and social media. In 2017, ProPublica published an update. The list of known incidents had grown to 65. Some of the incidents dated as far back as 2012, but many were quite recent. The news service obtained the information by carefully scrutinizing news reports, inspection reports and court cases (in instances where the perpetrator was legally punished). Taken together, the stories the investigation uncovered paint a disturbing picture of how social media can be weaponized against the defenseless.

Many of the incidents show similar patterns: a half-clothed or unclothed resident, often with dementia, is filmed or photographed in a demeaning way — apparently for the amusement of the person who took the photos. In some, the resident is openly mocked, taunted or teased by someone in the room. Some examples include:

  • An elderly woman was videotaped sitting on a toilet while nursing aides ask her questions about her sex life and whether or not she ever smoked marijuana.
  • A 97-year old woman with dementia was slapped in the face with a piece of nylon while a worker laughed.
  • An Ohio woman with dementia was coached by an aide to say, “I’m in love with the coco (a reference to cocaine),” and called a “hoe” when the video of her was uploaded to Snapchat.

In many cases, the abuse and degradation go unpunished. In the Ohio case, for example, the nursing home supervisor knew about the incident but said that she “didn’t feel it was abuse.”

Growing old doesn’t mean that a person loses their right to dignity and respect. If your loved one has been the subject of degrading acts and intrusive, humiliating social media posts, you have a right to take action. Find out more about your legal options regarding this form of nursing home abuse as soon as possible.