Nursing home abuse on social media a growing problem

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Abuse of the elderly, shared on social media for all to see.

An updated report from independent investigative non-profit ProPublica shows cases of elder abuse and privacy invasion are growing.

They found twelve new incidents investigated by local governments during the first seven months of 2016. That’s as many as there were during all of 2015.

Indiana follows the same trend. Last year, only one case happened in Indiana. So far this year, there have been three cases. That means one in every four incidents took place in the Hoosier state.

In some of the cases, Ball State professor John Strauss says the videos confirm some families’ worst fears.

“It is an affirmation that the people concerned about the welfare of their seniors, you know, have reason to be,” said Strauss.

In half the cases in Indiana and more than half nationwide, the offenders used Snapchat. Strauss isn’t surprised to see that.

“There’s a perception with Snapchat that you have some degree of privacy,” said Strauss. “If we’ve learned anything, if we should’ve learned anything in recent years, there is no such thing as privacy online. “

In each Indiana case, government documents show a fellow coworker turned in the person behind the camera phone.

In Michigan City, Kara Devaux’s Snapchat video of a patient in the shower being sprayed with water led to felony and misdemeanor charges.

“The abuse of patients is terrible in its own light,” said Strauss. “The sadly depressing thing is that people are sharing this with their friends. It’s good that this has come to light you know, because it does shed light on the greater problem of care of our elderly.”

The federal government is on the case too.

Indiana State Department of Health spokesperson Jennifer O’Malley confirms they received an official memo requesting they investigate all long-term facilities’ social media policies.

In an email, O’Malley also stated that “ISDH has been working for more than a year to educate providers about prohibitions on employees posting anything involving residents on social media. ISDH also has been citing facilities for violations if such postings are found.”

She went on to say that the department is reviewing the guidance from the federal government to determine what additional steps might be needed. At this time though, she tells CBS4, it’s too early to tell.

Strauss says he believes in the end, companies will have to move toward stricter workplace rules.

“These organizations simply need to ban these devices from areas in which folks are getting care,” said Strauss.

Even though the ways to share these incidents are new, the abuse isn’t.

A congressional study found 30 percent of nursing homes were cited for abuse over a two-year period.

Strauss believes these pictures and video are making it harder to ignore that sobering statistic.

If you want to check your loved one’s nursing home for citations and to compare ratings, click here.

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