Gary Tetz

I’ll admit it. I’m still a little angry. If righteous indignation were an alternative fuel source, I could solve climate change all on my own.

A favorite long-term care resident had taken a turn for the worse, so a colleague and I went to see him in a nearby hospital. He looked shockingly frail and vulnerable, and had some difficulty speaking. But he was sitting up, engaged and glad to see us, and a couple times even his trademark grin broke through.

We returned to the office sobered, but honored to have had the opportunity to spend precious time with him. In an obviously difficult, frightening and painful situation, his spirit and dignity still shone brightly, and even the ominous sterility of the hospital environment couldn’t subvert the power of the wave and smile he mustered as we left.

Unfortunately, that memory was unceremoniously shattered later that afternoon when I was shown a photo posted on social media by one of his family members — apparently taken on the same day as our visit. In the picture, captured from a low angle down by his feet, he was shown lying flat on his back with an oxygen tube in his nose, gown askew, and eyes closed and mouth agape.

It was the least flattering angle imaginable — I’ll give the photographer credit for that achievement, at least. The post invited concern, thoughts and prayers — but the image evoked only pity and indignity. Obviously, I don’t know the family dynamic and shouldn’t judge the loved one’s intent, but the photo was clueless, jarring and just plain sad.

Within the long-term care profession, we’ve worked hard to guard the privacy and dignity of our residents by implementing stringent regulations to prevent demeaning photos and video from being taken and distributed without permission. We train our staff to put resident dignity first, and if a nurse or CNA had posted a photo like this, discipline would have followed.

But it took my breath away to realize that even our best efforts can’t always protect the residents we serve and love, and that sometimes the greatest threat of all comes from those who should be their greatest advocates — friends and family members.  

Had one of our long-term care staff been there that day, I’m convinced he or she would have seen what was happening, taken the resident’s protection personally, and said something tactful like, “Oh, you want to take a picture? That’s fantastic. Let me help with that. Shall we raise the head of the bed so you can see him a little better? How about if I adjust his gown, and maybe wipe his face a bit, and smooth that renegade wisp of hair? There, that’s better.”

Nothing’s more important than resident dignity, and that’s apparently something even family members and alleged “loved ones” need to learn. Education can’t happen overnight, but let’s start with a sign, elegantly framed and hanging on the wall in every resident room or treatment area:   


“Photograph others as you would have them photograph you.”

Things I Think is written by injury-prone Gary Tetz, a national Silver Medalist and regional Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program. He’s been amusing, inspiring, informing and sometimes befuddling long-term care readers worldwide since the end of a previous century. He is a multimedia consultant for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.