CMS Asks Federal Officials to Enforce Penalties on Nursing Home Employees Using Social Media to Violate the Privacy of Nursing Home Residents
By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
On August 8, 2016, federal health regulators announced plans to crack down on nursing home employees who take “demeaning” photographs and videos of residents and post them on social media. Patient advocates want the federal agency to more explicitly outline the penalties for the growing number of nursing home employees who are abusing patients in this extremely public way.
“Patient Abuse” Using Social Media Platforms.
The move follows a series of reports that have documented alleged abuses in nursing homes and assisted living facilities (ALFs) arising from use of social media platforms such as Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram. These reports of abuse include photos and videos of residents who were naked, covered in feces or even deceased. They also include other images of abuse.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which oversees nursing homes, said in a memo to state health departments issued on August 5, 2016, that all nursing homes should be checked to make sure they have policies prohibiting their staff from taking demeaning photographs of residents. The memo also calls on state officials to quickly investigate such complaints and report offending workers to state licensing agencies for investigation and possible discipline. State health departments (such as the Agency for Health Care Administration or “AHCA” in Florida)help enforce nursing home rules for the federal government. To read the memo in full, click here.
The new document also guides nursing homes on protocols that should be followed if one of their employees abuses a patient in this way. Those steps include staffing changes, increased supervision and follow-up counseling for the residents. The facility must implement corrective actions to prevent recurrence.
The CMS states that nursing home employees must report cases of abuse to “at least one law enforcement agency,” and that anyone who fails to report incidents is subject to “various penalties, including civil monetary penalties.”
Patient Advocates Think The Document Doesn’t Go Far Enough.
Several industry stakeholders say that CMS’s document only supports what many facilities are already enforcing in their nursing home facilities. In 2015 it was reported in that since 2012 there have been 35 documented cases in which nursing home staffers have used social media to share photos or videos of residents. Some showed residents who were partly or completely naked.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) did not penalize any facilities for violations regarding federal privacy laws, though many were fired and banned from ever working at nursing homes. Some states charged the offenders with elder abuse, voyeurism and invasion of privacy.
While the efforts from CMS are helping to thwart social media abuse in nursing homes, it’s not an issue that is conquered overnight. To read more on the issue of patient abuse in nursing homes, click here to read one of my prior blogs.
Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Nurses and Nurse Aides.
The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely represent nurses and nurse aides in Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) complaints, investigations and hearings. They represented skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), assisted living facilities (ALFs), adult homes, group homes, nurse registries, home health agencies (HHAs) and other types of health facilities. They also represent individual nurses and other licensed health professionals in investigations and defense of their licenses before state boards. We represent nurses across the U.S., and throughout Florida. To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.
Huseman, Jessica. “Federal Officials Seek To Stop Social Media Abuse Of Nursing Home Residents.” NPR. (August 8, 2016). Web.
Dickson, Virgil. “CMS puts the onus on states to stop invasive videos and photos of nursing home residents.” Modern Healthcare. (August 8, 2016). Web.
About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.
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