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Social media: a potential challenge for Illinois nursing homes

Social media platforms are nothing new. They've been around for more than a few years, and new ones seem to pop up every year. The evolution of the channels is not well understood, however, and this could be proving to be something of a problem for the nursing home industry across the country and in Illinois.

The issue, as recently reported by the public interest journalism outlet ProPublica, is the number of disturbing instances in which nursing home workers post photos or videos of residents in their care.

Industry and regulatory officials accept that such practices violate rules of common decency, privacy and dignity. They may also violate federal health privacy laws. But the report observes that most of the cases that have been uncovered have not led to criminal charges.

This raises questions about whether such elder abuse and neglect doesn't warrant pursuing civil action. Those who may suspect that their loved ones have been victims of such activity should be consulting with an attorney to explore what rights they have and what action might be possible.

Why such activity is as pervasive as it seems to be is a question that seems hard to answer. One prosecutor in Massachusetts suggests it may be a problem of misguided social attitudes. As she puts it, "Something hasn't happened now unless there's a selfie or a Facebook posting about it."

At the same time, a former nursing assistant in Indiana who pleaded guilty to charges stemming from her having taken and shared a picture of a resident's bottom offered that "Everybody takes pictures of the residents all the time." She admits that what she did was a mistake, but says that, "It was just a picture of her butt," and that the patient never knew it happened.

That is no excuse for such violations, of course. But unless nursing home operators take the initiative to enforce rules against such activity, change is unlikely to occur.

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