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Study Uncovers 'Cruel' Social Media Behavior Towards Nursing Home Residents

Close-up of nursing home resident in grey wool jumper leaning on his cane.

The issue of nursing home staff members misusing social media to exploit or demean residents is a harmful form of nursing home abuse. Eilon Caspi, a gerontologist at the University of Connecticut, has gathered evidence of cruel social media behavior toward nursing home residents in 31 states.

He uncovered these incidents through investigation reports filed with the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. He found that they vary in their nature and severity and range from unauthorized sharing of personal information on TikTok and Snapchat to deeply troubling disrespect and humiliation captured on video.

Disturbing examples of cruel social media behavior in nursing homes

In one incident, a staff member filmed themselves tickling the nose of a sleeping Alzheimer's patient and posted it on Snapchat. Another disturbing case involved a video of a staff member forcibly removing a resident's wig and hitting them with it. A different video showed an employee twerking in the face of a resident. These instances highlight a spectrum of misconduct, from violating privacy to outright physical and psychological abuse.

"There was a situation where staff pretended to be funeral home staff, and they told the resident, 'We have cardboard coffins,' like, this is one of our options," said Caspi. "The level of cruelty — these people are supposed to care for these individuals who, many of them, are vulnerable."

Challenges with reporting cruel social media behavior in nursing homes

Caspi's research indicates that many victims of cruel social media behavior have cognitive impairments. About 85% of them exhibit some level of cognitive decline, and many have severe dementia. This vulnerability makes it difficult for them to remember details of the abuse or identify the perpetrators.

Mairead Painter, the Connecticut long-term care ombudsman, acknowledges the challenge in gauging the full extent of this problem.

"When it comes up. I think it's really important for people to report it and for it to be recognized and dealt with in that moment by the administration in that building," said Painter. "The resident may not be able to give consent to that. They may not understand that you were doing something that was making fun of them or was disrespectful."

Legal and ethical challenges of social media usage in nursing homes

Caspi notes that taking and sharing photos without a resident's consent is a violation of their federal rights to privacy and confidentiality. This is particularly concerning given that many residents are unable to give informed consent.

Moreover, Caspi believes that while some staff members may not be aware they are infringing upon residents' rights, ignorance is no excuse. He stresses the need for caregivers to inform themselves about residents' rights and what constitutes abuse.

The issue has prompted some legislative and policy responses. In 2016, the CMS issued guidance to nursing homes to develop policies against demeaning uses of photographs or recordings.

Additionally, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal has called for more vigilant actions from social media platforms to protect vulnerable nursing home residents. He highlighted the need to respect the dignity and rights of these individuals.

Despite existing regulations, enforcement remains a challenge. Some facilities have rules regarding cell phone use, but their effectiveness is uncertain. Caspi suggests that while the regulations are robust, their implementation is often weak. He also stresses the need for more stringent rules for the use of cell phones in these settings.

Painter adds that a state bill adopted in 2021 aimed at enabling online communication between residents and their families during the pandemic also introduced measures against such misconduct. This legislation asserts that any recording or photograph taken in these facilities is the property of the resident or their legal representative.

If you suspect nursing home abuse, put your case in experienced hands

If you believe your loved one has suffered harm in a Georgia nursing facility, it's crucial to take immediate action. This type of behavior is both a violation of trust and the law. That's why the legal team at Johnson Greer Law Group in Decatur is committed to holding these perpetrators accountable and fighting for the justice our clients deserve

Our attorneys understand the emotional and physical toll of nursing home abuse. We thoroughly investigate each incident to uncover the truth and build strong cases for victims and their families. Don't let nursing home abuse go unchallenged. Contact us online or call our law office in Decatur to schedule your free consultation.

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