The explosion of social media has unfortunately meant more ways for unprofessional staff members at nursing homes to abuse vulnerable residents. A shocking exposé by ProPublica documents evidence of instances in which nursing home staff uploaded embarrassing, humiliating or degrading images or videos of vulnerable elderly residents in their care.
Many of these images were uploaded on social media networks like SnapChat, which displays pictures posted on it for a few seconds before deleting them. The ProPublica exposé investigated such instances, and found a total of 35 episodes that have occurred since 2012 alone. In all of these instances, staff members at nursing homes took pictures of residents in some of their most vulnerable states, and shared them on social media. Sixteen of the pictures or images were uploaded on SnapChat.
In some of these pictures and videos, residents were either totally or partially naked. In one instance recorded in 2014, a worker at a Washington-based nursing care facility uploaded a video of a resident sitting on a portable toilet. In yet another horrifying video, one worker can be seen slapping the face of an elderly resident using a nylon strap, to which the woman protests. In the background, other employees can be heard laughing.
Some of these cases have led to prosecution, and they should. In at least one case, the workers involved were fired. Some nursing homes have implemented stronger cell phone policies and stricter restrictions on the use of social media by staff members while on duty.
What seems to be more disturbing is that the number of these incidents is actually increasing. The ProPublica investigation analyzed the occurrence of these incidents over a period of four years, and found only 13 episodes recorded in the first two years. That number had ballooned to 22 cases in the next two years.
As social media use continues to rise, and the number of social networking sites that allow users to share content with others increases, the opportunity for sinister conduct on the part of nursing home staff also increases. It is important for facilities that are trusted with the care our sick and elderly be held to a very high standard, and implement policies to protect those who are vulnerable.