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Is your loved one subject to social media abuse at a nursing home?

Nursing home abuse is unfortunately a reality that's more common than we'd like. When you think of nursing home abuse, certain actions may come to mind. But in today's digital age, a new kind of abuse is happening in nursing homes: social media abuse. This consists of nursing home employees taking degrading photos of nursing home residents and posting them on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.

The photos not only violate the privacy of your loved ones in nursing homes, but is also disrespectful and is a form of abuse. The photos and videos taken of residents showed the residents naked, covered in feces or deceased. Some images posted on social media platforms included images of abuse. ProPublica documented this abuse in nursing homes and reported that The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal regulators that oversee nursing homes, plans to crack down on nursing homes and nursing home employees who engage in this type of abuse.

According to the CMS, nursing homes have a responsibility to do the following things, and if they don't, they could be cited, fined or even terminated from participating in the Medicare program:

• Protect your loved one's privacy as a nursing home resident
• Have policies and practices that prohibit abuse from happening
• Provide training to employees on preventing abuse
• Investigate any and all allegations of abuse

Here are three signs social media abuse could be happening at the nursing home where your loved one lives:

1) The nursing home doesn't seem to have a policy banning the use of personal cell phones by employees when they are working in areas with residents

If you see employees not only possessing, but using personal cell phones out in the open, it may be a good idea to ask what the policy is. Of course, some people are not so discreet with their cell phones, and you may witness an employee actually taking photos of residents. Even if it is a seemingly harmless photo, like a resident smiling as they walk down the hall, be aware that employees may also be taking harmful photos of residents when people are not around. That employee also may not have permission to take any photos of residents, even if it is a positive photo.

2) The nursing home employees seem disrespectful, or your loved one tells you they are being treated disrespectfully

This information should never be taken lightly. Sometimes, loved ones will not say outright that someone is treating them disrespectfully, but will ask you to make sure a certain employee does not work with them. That employee may be abusing your loved one, whether it is social media abuse or another kind of abuse. Anytime your loved one complains about a specific employee, or shows they are fearful or intimidated by that employee, investigate further to find out what is going on.

3) You have seen images from nursing homes in your area freely shared on social media

Although some nursing homes may have their own social media pages and feeds where they post updates and photos of events and resident happenings, the kind of updates that may raise a red flag come from individuals posting on their own pages. If these are posted publicly and shared, you may come across them yourself. Take note of what kind of photos are being shared, or what is being said about nursing home residents. Even if the photo appears harmless, if an employee shared it and wrote something negative, something more may be going on. The chances of actually running into a photo yourself may seem small, but things travel quickly on social media, and you may be surprised to learn it's not such a rare thing.

So what can you do if you suspect your loved one is in a nursing home where social media abuse might be happening? You can report the abuse to the Alabama Department of Human Resources Adult Protective Services. An attorney can help you figure out what laws might have been violated, and what your loved one's rights are while they live in a nursing home. It may be overwhelming to worry about your loved one in a nursing home, but know that the law protects your loved one from abuse, neglect and exploitation.

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