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Feds aim to crack down on social media exploitation of nursing home residents

Federal officials seek to stop nursing home employees from posting degrading photos and videos of the elderly.


Nursing home residents in Haute-Savoie, France.

Amelie-Benoist/BSIP, UIG via Getty Images

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services says nursing homes should have rules that forbid employees from taking photos and videos that are demeaning or humiliating to residents. Sharing such content through social media networks should also be prohibited and to do so should be considered a form of abuse.

The agency, within the Department of Health and Human Services, spelled out those guidelines in a memo Friday to state health departments, which help enforce nursing home rules for the US government.

This comes after a December 2015 report from ProPublica that documented 47 instances of employees who worked at nursing homes and assisted-living centers, photographing and recording elderly patients without their consent and posting on Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram. Cases dated back to 2012, including one from 2014 where a nursing assistant posted on Snapchat a photo of a resident "naked, lying in bed, and surrounded by feces."

Currently, laws against such conduct vary from state to state. In July, ProPublica reported how a staff member at an Iowa nursing home posted a Snapchat of a resident "with his pants around his ankles, his legs and hand covered in feces." Because his genitals were not seen in the post, however, it was not against state law.

The memo outlined consistent federal requirements to investigate and penalize facilities that fail to prevent such abuse. According to NPR, penalties can include fines, citations and "termination from the Medicare program."

Neither the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services nor ProPublica immediately responded to a request for comment.