CMS Cracks Down on Social Media Abuse of Nursing Home Residents

A significant number of cases of abuse of nursing home and assisted living center residents have come to light in recent months. The cases involved the taking of degrading and demeaning photographs and videos of residents by employees of nursing facilities, and sharing the images and videos on social media websites.

Photographs of residents in various states of undress, covered in feces, or made to pose in degrading positions have been published on social media websites such as Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook.

The cases were recently highlighted in a ProPublica report, which uncovered 47 reports of such abuse since 2012. That report, along with other media coverage of abuse in nursing facilities, has spurred the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to take action.

The CMS recently sent a memo to state health departments reminding them of facility and state agency responsibilities and the rights of residents to be free from all types of abuse, including mental abuse. The taking of demeaning videos and/or photographs and publishing the imagery on social media websites is a form of abuse and must be stamped out.

The CMS points out that “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.” The memo goes on to say, “Federal nursing home regulations require that each nursing home provides care and services in a person-centered environment in which all individuals are treated as human beings.”

The memo explains that state health departments play an important role in overseeing nursing facilities and ensuring that federal regulations are enforced. State health departments have been instructed to conduct checks of nursing homes and assisted living centers in their states to ensure that policies have been put in place that prohibit the taking or use of demeaning photographs by nursing facility staff.

Oversight of nursing homes and assisted living facilities should also be increased. Checks should be conducted to ensure that training on abuse prevention and prohibition is provided to all nursing home staff, including “employees, consultants, contractors, volunteers, and other caregivers who provide care and services to residents on behalf of the facility.”

State officials are also required to conduct investigations into reports of abuse promptly. Any staff members suspected of abusive acts should be reported to state licensing agencies for investigation.

The failure of nursing homes to take action to prevent the abuse of residents can have serious implications. If policies are not put in place to prevent abuse, or if training is not provided to the staff, nursing facilities can face citations or forced withdrawal from the Medicare program. Individuals found to have participated in abuse can also be disciplined and may face loss of employment, loss of license, or criminal charges.

Author: Steve Alder has many years of experience as a journalist, and comes from a background in market research. He is a specialist on legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA. Steve holds a B.Sc. from the University of Liverpool.