Senator grills HHS over nursing home workers' social media abuse

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The recent surge of cases involving nursing home workers abusing social media has prompted one senator to ask what the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is doing to curb the issue.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) sent a letter Tuesday to the HHS' Office for Civil Rights. In it he cited a “deeply concerning” ProPublica report that found at least 37 instances of nursing home workers posting inappropriate videos or photos of residents to social media since 2012. The Office for Civil Rights is required under HIPAA to investigate and resolve complaints related to health information privacy, but hadn't taken any action against nursing homes for social media violations as of December 2015, Carper noted.

“This type of abuse is unacceptable and falls short of our moral obligation to the ‘least of these' in our society,” Carper wrote.

In an “effort to better understand” how HHS plans to handle cases of nursing home employees caught abusing social media, Carper asked:

  • If the office had received any HIPAA complaints regarding nursing homes and social media in the past five years, and if so, how many, and whether they have been resolved.

  • Of the resolved complaints, how many resulted in civil penalties or referrals to the Department of Justice.

  • How the office decides to conduct compliance reviews related to social media use at nursing homes, and if any compliance reviews have been conducted in the last five years.

  • If the office plans to issue guidance to nursing homes on social media use and HIPAA.

  • What requirements exist for nursing homes to address or report potential HIPAA violations.

  • If the office had discussed the social media abuse issue with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, including any discussion regarding the proposed Reform of Requirements for Long-Term Care Facilities rule.

  • If the office had received any reports from nursing homes regarding social media breaches.

Carper asked that the Office of Civil Rights respond with answers to his questions by March 18.