Sen. Chuck Grassley continues to investigate abuses of nursing home residents by workers involving humiliating photos on social media such as Snapchat. As a result of his work, the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services last year alerted 50 State Medicaid Fraud Control Units to be increasingly aware of the problem and investigate allegations accordingly. The news outlet ProPublica, which has been documenting these cases, is reporting several new cases in Iowa. Grassley also has pressed Snapchat to take action. ProPublica reports that Snapchat is developing a better means of reporting abusive cases. Grassley made the following comment.
“There’s no place for these incidents. Nursing homes and the people who work there take on the responsibility to care for elderly residents with dignity and respect for privacy. It could be that we’re seeing greater awareness of this problem in Iowa because of a high profile focus on it in recent months. I’ve been part of raising the profile. The number of reports in Iowa makes me wonder how well reporting is going in other states. Are other states reporting less than Iowa because of less awareness of the problem? People should report these incidents. Reporting is key to enforcement, and enforcement is key to prevention. Nursing homes all over need to be sure they’re doing everything possible to prevent the exploitation of residents on social media. They have to face the consequences of negative inspection findings and penalties if they don’t.”
In the last year alone, employees of at least 18 nursing homes and assisted living facilities have posted unauthorized — and in some cases, vulgar and stomach-turning — photos and videos of residents on Snapchat and other social media platforms, a ProPublica analysis has found.
Six incidents were in Iowa, which has put a greater focus on identifying such cases. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, has called upon Snapchat and other social media companies to do more to stop the problem.
Of the six cases reported in Iowa, homes themselves reported four to the state Department of Inspections and Appeals, one was called in as a complaint, and the other was discovered during an on-site inspection.
“We’re not alarmed by that number at all,” said David Werning, a spokesman for the state agency. “The facilities in Iowa, I think, are very much aware of the fact that we were looking at this issue. With the CMS directive that came out last August to develop social media policies, we’re not surprised at all that the facilities are calling us to say, ‘Hey, we have an instance you need to look at.’”
Werning’s department proposed a change in Iowa law after a certified nursing assistant in Hubbard, Iowa, shared a photo online in March 2016 of a nursing home resident with his pants around his ankles, his legs and hand covered in feces, and state inspectors discovered there weren’t any regulations to hold the aide accountable. In the future, the state’s definition of dependent adult abuse will include “the taking, transmission, or display of an electronic image of a dependent adult by a caretaker, where the caretaker’s actions constitute a willful act or statement intended to shame, degrade, humiliate, or otherwise harm the personal dignity of the dependent adult.”
Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said other states need to follow Iowa’s lead.
“The number of reports in Iowa makes me wonder how well reporting is going in other states,” he said in a statement to ProPublica. “People should report these incidents. Reporting is key to enforcement, and enforcement is key to prevention. … They have to face the consequences of negative inspection findings and penalties if they don’t.”
Grassley also has pushed Snapchat and other companies to do more to curb abuse of seniors on social media and to make it easier for people to report suspected abuse.
“Images of nursing home abuse will never have a safe or welcome place on Snapchat,” the company Snap Inc. said in a statement. “This content not only violates the law and our guidelines – it offends our common decency.”
Snap is rolling out a system that allows users to report abuse within the Snapchat app itself rather than relying on users to go to the company’s website to file an abuse report. Snapchat has more than 65 million daily active users in the U.S. and Canada.