Federal Regulators Cracking Down on Social Media Abuse of Nursing Home Residents

Recently, federal regulators directed state inspectors to begin scrutinizing efforts by nursing homes to protect elderly residents from being degraded on social media by staff members, a move prompted by dozens of disturbing posts in recent years.  A letter from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services told state survey agencies within 30 days to start examining nursing home policies on social media as part of broader inspections. The memo also calls on state officials to quickly investigate such complaints and report offending workers to state licensing agencies for investigation and possible discipline.   According to NPR, penalties can include fines, citations and “termination from the Medicare program. State health departments help enforce nursing home rules for the federal government.
This comes after a December 2015 report from ProPublica that documented 47 instances of employees who worked at nursing homes and assisted-living centers, photographing and recording elderly patients without their consent and posting on Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram. Cases dated back to 2012, including one from 2014 where a nursing assistant posted on Snapchat a photo of a resident “naked, lying in bed, and surrounded by feces.”  Currently, laws against such conduct vary from state to state. In July, ProPublica reported how a staff member at an Iowa nursing home posted a Snapchat of a resident “with his pants around his ankles, his legs and hand covered in feces.” Because his genitals were not seen in the post, however, it was not against state law.
“Nursing homes must establish an environment that is as homelike as possible and includes a culture and environment that treats each resident with respect and dignity,” said the memo signed by David Wright, director of the CMS survey and certification group. “Treating a nursing home resident in any manner that does not uphold a resident’s sense of self-worth and individuality dehumanizes the resident and creates an environment that perpetuates a disrespectful and/or potentially abusive attitude towards the resident(s).”
CMS said that nursing homes have a responsibility to protect residents’ privacy, to prohibit abuse, to provide training on how to prevent abuse and to investigate all allegations of abuse. If homes fail to do so, they can face citations, fines and theoretically even termination from the Medicare program.
Also, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has weighed in on the matter.  He has called on other federal agencies to take action on the problem. He sent letters to the Department of Justice and to the Office for Civil Rights within the Department of Health and Human Services asking whether “rules and protections are in place to prevent and punish these types of abuses.” He also has sent letters to social media companies, calling on them to pay more attention to this.  
While many social media services have the ability to flag specific content as offensive, those flags are generally meant to remove the content from the service entirely or prevent others on the service from seeing it. Users who spot threatening, illegal or abusive activity still have to report it to the proper authorities themselves.
While some states have taken harsh steps against nursing homes at which social media abuse occurs, other states have not. NPR reported in July that Iowa health officials recently discovered it wasn’t against state law for a nursing home worker to share a photo on Snapchat of a resident covered in feces because his genitals weren’t visible. Officials are trying to change the law when the Iowa Legislature reconvenes early next year.
Last month, the industry’s trade group issued its own suggestions for dealing with such situations, encouraging training and swift responses by these facilities when allegations are brought to light. The group also is holding training events around the country. While many facilities ban the use or possession of cell phones by employees when in resident areas, some have also found such rules impractical to enforce.
Greg Crist, a spokesman for the American Health Care Association, the trade group, said the CMS memo dovetails with the industry’s effort to stop social media abuse. “The two words in that CMS directive that stand out most to me are ‘privacy’ and ‘responsibility,’ ” Crist wrote in an email. “That’s why we have taken responsibility and made a concerted, nationwide effort to educate and share best practices with our centers not only on how to detect and root out this abuse, but also proactive steps to ensure it doesn’t happen in the first place.”
If  you or a loved one has been neglected or had your nursing home resident’s rights violated, contact us at Edwards & Ragatz for a free consultation.  (904)399-1609 or (866)366-1609.  www.edwardsragatz.com
Source: http://www.law360.com/health/articles/826108?nl_pk=7e412dd9-eb4e-4c3f-84ff-5e00a6aec839&utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=health & http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/08/08/489195484/federal-officials-seek-to-stop-social-media-abuse-of-nursing-home-residents & https://www.engadget.com/2016/08/09/federal-regulators-crack-down-social-media-abuse-nursing-homes/

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