Investigation Launched Over Snapchat Photo Sharing at M.M. Ewing Continuing Care Center

Certain employees of a Canandaigua, NY nursing home have been using their smartphones to take photographs and videos of at least one resident and have shared those images and videos with others on Snapchat – a violation of HIPAA and serious violation of patient privacy.

The privacy breaches occurred at Thompson Health’s M.M. Ewing Continuing Care Center and involved multiple employees. Thompson Health has already taken action and has fired several workers over the violations. Now the New York Department of Health and the state attorney general’s office have got involved and are conducting investigations.

The state attorney general’s Deputy Press Secretary, Rachel Shippee confirmed to the Daily Messenger that an investigation has been launched, confirming “The Medicaid Fraud Control Unit’s mission includes the protection of nursing home residents from abuse, neglect and mistreatment, including acts that violate a resident’s rights to dignity and privacy.”

Thompson Health does not believe the images/videos were shared publicly and sharing was restricted to a group of employees at the care center. Thompson Health is contacting the families of the residents impacted by the breach to offer an apology.

This is not the first time that Thomson Health has discovered an employee had taken pictures and videos without people’s knowledge. In January, a camera was discovered in a unisex bathroom at Thompson Hospital. When the camera was taken down it was discovered that the memory card had been removed. The matter was reported to law enforcement although the employee responsible has not been identified.

M.M. Ewing Continuing Care Center is far from the only nursing home to discover that residents have been photographed and videoed without consent with videos and images shared on social media networks.

An investigation into the sharing of images of abuse of nursing home residents was launched by ProPublica in 2015. The investigation revealed the practice was commonplace, with several nursing home employees discovered to have performed similar acts. The investigation revealed there had been 22 cases of photo sharing on Snapchat and other social media platforms and 35 cases in total since 2012.

More recently, a nursing assistant at the Parkside Manor assisted-living facility in Kenosha, WI., was discovered to have taken photos of an Alzheimer’s patient and posted the images of SnapChat. When the violation was discovered, the nursing assistant was fired for the HIPAA breach.

The high number of cases involving these types of HIPAA violations prompted the CMS to take action in 2016. The CMS sent a memo to state health departments reminding them of their responsibilities to ensure nursing home residents were not subjected to any form of abuse, including mental abuse such as the taking of demeaning and degrading photos and videos and having the multimedia content shared on social media networks.

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.