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State Laws Out-of-Date Concerning Social Media Abuse Cases in NHs

July 22, 2016

State laws designed to protect nursing home (NH) residents from abuse often fail to address the growing risk of explicit social media posts by health care workers, a new report finds.

The report, by the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, is in response to a story published December 2015 that discussed an incident with a Snapchat photo at an Iowa-based facility showing a resident covered in feces. The story also identified almost three dozen incidents of explicit content of long-term care (LTC) residents shared by health care workers on social media platforms.

Under the current Iowa law that protects seniors against abuse, which has not been updated since 2008, images shared on social media must contain a resident's genitals to fall under “sexual exploitation.” Because the Iowa Snapchat photo did not include the restricted content, the state was unable discipline the worker or file charges.

Nine additional events have since been discovered, and other states are facing similar situations. The above-mentioned Iowa incident is just one illustration of how regulators and law enforcement officials nationwide are struggling to respond when employees in LTC settings violate the privacy of residents by posting photos on social media websites.

Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat executives have said that they have policies in place to remove abusive content from their platforms and that all users have the capability to report inappropriate content.

The report says no LTC facilities have been penalized by the US Department of Health and Human Services for violating the federal patient privacy laws. —Amanda Del Signore


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