We want to make sure our staff is fully connected by text for scheduling and other updates.  Can we make employee use of personal phones a condition of employment? How do we respect privacy issues of the residents and the employer?   

It is lawful under federal law to impose restrictions on phones for work-related purposes. However, since all employees do not own phones, you must have other forms of communicating schedules or other important issues to all employees.

You also should have a lawyer advise you as to whether state laws exist and apply to you. You should have a written policy in your employee handbook about use of personal cell phones and the obligation of the employee to protect the privacy rights of residents, the employer and coworkers. It should state that employees are prohibited from using their phones for non-work-related matters during working time. 

Federal law prohibits the dissemination of private information of the medical record or other information about a resident.

An employee cannot use his or her personal phone to make public information concerning residents, including the fact that they are a resident. If the employee makes public this private information, the employer and the employee may be liable for violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Employees under the policy should be advised that they have a duty to protect and not publish medical or other personal information of residents. Otherwise, they would be liable for discipline, up to and including discharge. 

You may want to have a mandatory informational meeting with all employees to explain the policy and the residents’ rights of privacy under HIPAA or any other state laws.