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Nursing Home Patient Privacy Compromised by Staff Social Media Exploits

At first, it seemed like it might be an isolated incident. Nursing home workers were caught posting images or videos of elderly patients that were embarrassing, humiliating and even dehumanizing.

These were clear violations of patients’ dignity, privacy and also in some cases, of the law.

Today, journalism non-profit ProPublica reports there have been nearly three dozen of these incidents across the U.S. in just the last two years. These workers are sharing video clips and image files of residents, in many cases where they are partially unclothed or totally naked.

While some of the instances have resulted in criminal charges, the majority have not, and that is partially because of the mode that workers are using: Snapchat. It’s a social media service in which users can share a photo that will be available for mere seconds, and then disappear without a digital trace.

This creates grave concern for the fact that: These are only the incidents we know about. There are undoubtedly countless others that have never been reported to authorities.

Among the cases that were detailed by the report:

  • A worker in Washington state sent a Snapchat video file to a colleague depicting an elderly resident sitting on a portable toilet with her underwear below her knees as the patient sang and laughed.
  • In Illinois, a nursing home assistant filmed and later shared video of her co-worker slapping the face of a 97-year-old dementia patient with a nylon strap as the woman cried for them to stop.
  • In Ohio, a nursing assistant compiled and later shared a video in which she coached residents to recite gangster rap lyrics referencing drugs and prostitutes. One woman had a banner placed over her chest that displayed foul language. The son of one woman later told inspectors for the government that his mother, depicted in one of the videos, had worked for decades as a church secretary and would be mortified by the videos if she were able to speak for herself.
  • A nursing home aide in New York took video of an elderly resident as another staffer pulled her hair and several others taunted the woman with racist and insulting language.

Other cases involve residents who are inappropriately exposed or who are deceased.

What’s especially troubling too is that in many cases, the incidents were not revealed as a result of nursing home internal procedures revealing wrongdoing. Instead, they are uncovered when either other staffers blow the whistle or someone from a group of “friends” with whom the images are shared alerts authorities.

Although a fair number of nursing homes forbid the use of cellphones by staffers on the job, the trouble is making sure those rules are enforced.

In these situations, nursing home residents and their loved ones may be able to take civil action by asserting pain and suffering and emotional distress. In Florida, it is necessary in cases of negligent infliction of emotional distress to also prove a bodily injury occurred. However, it can be asserted on its own where:

  • The wrongdoer’s conduct was reckless or intentional and he or she knew or should have known emotional distress would likely result;
  • Conduct was so outrageous and is to be regarded as utterly intolerable in a civilized community;
  • Conduct caused emotional distress;
  • Emotional distress was severe.

Those were the ground rules as laid forth by the Third District Court of Appeal in Dominguez v. Equitable Life Ass. Soc. of U.S. in 1983.

If you or a loved one has been affected by this kind of egregious wrongdoing, contact our offices today to learn more about whether you have grounds for a Florida nursing home lawsuit.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.

Additional Resources:

Nursing Home Workers Share Explicit Photos of Residents on Snapchat, Dec. 21, 2015, By Charles Ornstein, ProPublica

More Blog Entries:

Lang v. Beachwood Pointe Care Center – $1 Million Nursing Home Negligence Damage Award, Dec. 16, 2015, Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog

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