Resident rights, which are guaranteed by federal law (specifically, the 1987 Nursing Home Reform Law), requires nursing homes to promote and protect the rights of each resident. Part of this involves protecting residents' dignity, respect and consideration. That means not just being free from emotional, physical and sexual abuse, but also free from any degradation.
That is at the heart of an issue that is increasingly becoming of grave concern in nursing homes, and that involves new technology. Specifically, a form of communication known as Snapchat, a social media platform that allows users to upload pictures that will "disappear" after a set time.
Non-profit journalism outlet ProPublica has been tracking incidents nationally wherein it's been reported that employees of assisted living and nursing home facilities were taking humiliating pictures of residents and posting them to Snapchat. Although some photos have been uploaded to Facebook and Instagram, the majority are uploaded to Snapchat.
Incidents Hard to Track
Just in the last 12 months, journalists uncovered at least 18 incidents at assisted living facilities and nursing homes. Reporters have discovered at least 65 incidents reported since 2012. This is likely a very low estimate of how often this is happening because it's probable the vast majority of cases are never reported. It is precisely because it involves individuals who are elderly and vulnerable that we are all less likely to find out about it.
These images are unauthorized, but they are also vulgar and, as ProPublica noted in some cases, "stomach-churning."
Although the reporting of incidents has seen a spike, it's hard to say whether that's the result of heightened vigilance among regulators and nursing homes, or whether there is an actual increase in the number of incidents. It could be some combination of both.
Among the incidents reported recently:
- A staffer at a facility in Iowa reportedly photographed a residents' buttocks next to a picture of a gloved hand with feces on it, with the caption, "This is what I do at my job." Several staffers who viewed the photo didn't report it. It wasn't until an outside viewer saw it that it was eventually addressed.
- A medical assistant at a facility in Florida took surreptitious video of two elderly residents engaging in consensual sex and posted it to Snapchat. She later confessed to detectives, was arrested on a charge of video voyeurism and dissemination and was fired.
- A nursing assistant in Wisconsin snapped a photo of a resident's genitals while on the toilet and sent it to a former co-worker via Snapchat.
Filing a Lawsuit for Nursing Home Snapchat Pictures
Winning a lawsuit or negotiating a settlement for these kinds of incidents involves asserting that this was a type of abuse that caused the individual to suffer serious damages.
Defendants may try to assert that because the victim had mental deficiencies that he or she could not suffer damages that severe. But again it goes back to the rights one has when he or she enters a nursing home, and the fact that these sort of actions violate those rights in some very serious ways.
Relatives of some of the elderly residents involved say their loved ones were religious and kind and this kind of image would have devastated them.
Any action that jeopardizes a patient's privacy, dignity and safety is a form of nursing home abuse, and our attorneys are prepared to help you take action. The statute of limitations on personal injury lawsuits in Georgia, including those for nursing home abuse, is two years, per Ga. Code Ann § 9-3-33.