A study co-published by ProPublica and The Washington Times reveals that nursing home residents’ privacy is being violated by nursing home staff who are posting dehumanizing and inappropriate photos on social media sites. This new form of abuse can violate patient privacy and even the law.

The study identified 35 cases from 2012 where nursing home workers shared embarrassing pictures, including nude or partially nude photos of residents, on social media sites.

Snapchat was used in 16 of those cases. Snapchat is a social media site where users post videos or photos that remain visible for only a few seconds before disappearing without a trace.

These instances were identified through court cases, government inspection reports and media stories. The majority of incidents have not involved criminal allegations, even though they could violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act which can carry criminal penalties and civil consequences.

The study also found that most of the problematic images and videos were not identified by the facility itself, but rather were reported by other staff members or the community. Researchers suspect that these incidents are underreported because many of the victims have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease and are unaware of what is happening.

So far, no nursing homes have been penalized for privacy violations from social media posts by the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Health and Human Services.

The regulator of nursing homes, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, has issued some citations and plans to more specifically address the issue in its updated rules for nursing homes.

While nursing home abuse is not new, these incidents reflect a new threat to nursing home residents and a growing concern for patient privacy.

If your loved one has suffered any form of nursing home abuse, contact the law offices of Goldberg Finnegan immediately to discuss your legal options.