CMS Tightens Focus on Social Media Abuse of Nursing Home Residents

A major number of cases of abuse of nursing home and assisted living center residents have been seen recently. The cases have seen  the taking of degrading and demeaning photographs and videos of residents by employees of nursing centers, and sharing the photos and videos on social media websites.

Images of residents in various states of undress, covered in feces, or made to pose in unflattering positions have been published on social media websites including Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook.

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

The CMS recently sent a memo to state health departments highlighting to them facility and state agency responsibilities and the rights of residents to be free from all types of abuse, including mental abuse. The capturing of demeaning videos and/or photographs and publishing the same on social media websites is a form of abuse and must be prevented at all costs.

The CMS stated 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 adds, “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.”

It (the memo) outlines that state health departments play an important role in overseeing nursing facilities and ensuring that federal regulations are applied. State health departments have been told to conduct checks of nursing homes and assisted living centers in their respective states to ensure that policies have been put in place that prevent and prohibit the taking or use of demeaning photographs by nursing facility employees.

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

State officials must also conduct investigations into reports of abuse as quickly as possible. Any staff members suspected of abusive behavior should be reported to state licensing agencies for investigation.

The failure of nursing homes to take steps to prevent the abuse of residents can have serious ramifications. If policies are not implemented to prevent abuse, or if training is not given to the staff, nursing facilities can face citations or forced withdrawal from the Medicare program. People found to have participated in abuse can also be disciplined and may face loss of their job, loss of license, or criminal charges.