Senator Demands Action on Nursing Home Social Media Abuses

Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) is angry that in light of egregious privacy violations of nursing home residents on social media, federal health privacy officials have not responded with penalties or guidance.

As chronicled by the news organization ProPublica and other media outlets, there has been a string of incidents in which nursing home workers have taken and posted inappropriate photos of residents to social media sites such as Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat. ProPublica has itemized 37 separate incidents since 2012.

In a letter to Jocelyn Samuels, director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR), Carper criticizes the department for failing to take any official corrective actions or levy financial penalties against any of the facilities where incidents have been reported. Additionally, he asked when or if OCR would issue guidance to nursing homes on HIPAA and the use of social media.

In his letter, Carper cited ProPublica reporting on this issue, noting that the outlet’s “investigation identified 35 incidents across 19 states, in which workers at these facilities shared on social media photos of residents, some of whom were not fully clothed or were suffering from dementia, documenting mistreatment. This type of abuse is unacceptable and falls short of our moral obligation to the ‘least of these’ in our society,” he wrote.

While none of the facilities with reported incidents have faced federal HIPAA sanctions, individual workers have been charged with crimes. One Wisconsin worker faced felony charges for posting pictures of a naked resident to Snapchat. Additionally, an Indiana nursing assistant received felony and misdemeanor charges for posting a video of a dementia patient showering on Snapchat, according to ProPublica.

Carper is not the only lawmaker to address this issue. Senate Aging Committee member Joe Donnelly (D-IN) asked his committee to investigate these cases.

Click here to read Carper’s letter and here to read a list of violations, detailed by ProPublica.

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