When social media is used to degrade residents

John O'Connor
John O'Connor

There are three things I may never understand.

First, why does salt taste so good on watermelon?

Second, why does an expensive item seem to break whenever a few extra bucks come along?

Finally, why do so many nursing home employees feel the urge to post inappropriate resident photos and videos on social media outlets?

For more on this last item, I invite you to check these 44 examples of dubious postings, courtesy of ProPublica.

Here is a verbatim description of some, er, highlights:

•  A nursing assistant photographed a resident's genitals and sent the picture to a friend, who uploaded it to Facebook.

•  Two workers took photos and videos of nude or partially nude elderly residents and shared them on Snapchat.

•  A nurse aide took photos of an incontinent resident's genitals covered in fecal matter and shared them with another staff member on Snapchat.

•  A nursing assistant admitted taking video of a 93-year-old woman with Alzheimer's disease sitting on her bed in a bra with no underwear or pants.

Kinda makes you proud, doesn't it? At the very least, it would appear that quite a few workers in this field seem to have a fetish for geriatric nudity and toileting.

Look, I'm not a complete prude. My guess is that many if not most of these shared images were intended to make others laugh. But that hardly makes them OK. Those images are universally degrading. The employees responsible for their creation and distribution should have known better. Let's hope none of them are still working in this field. They clearly have troubling judgment issues.

As an employer, you have every right to be offended. And perhaps a bit afraid. For it would be quite easy for these various disgusting images to fuel survey citations, lawsuits, and perhaps even criminal charges against your facility.

Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley (R) recently sent a letter to social media companies asking what steps they are taking to curtail what amounts to the public shaming of residents. Facebook and Snapchat replied they are doing what they can to deal with such imagery. For now, that basically means terminating the accounts of alleged abusers. That's better than nothing, but not much.

To its credit, the American Health Care Association has been far more vigilant.

The association recently posted suggestions intended to help its more than 11,000 members better deal with this ugly side of social media. Its 13-page document urges providers to review social media policies, conduct related training and investigate possible abuses. It also offers specific ways operators can respond to possible scenarios.

The organization earlier created a best practices document.

These days, it is the rare employee who does not have a mobile phone capable of creating photos and videos. There may not be much you can do about that. But at the very least, you should do all you can to discourage workers from capturing residents in unflattering ways.

The more you can convince your staff that this sort of irresponsible behavior will not be tolerated, the better off everyone is likely to be.

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McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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