Feds call for crackdown on abuse of nursing home residents on social media

Homes where incidents occur could be banned from Medicare

CMS in a notice published Friday urged state health officials to strengthen nursing home resident protections to combat abuse of the residents on social media.

According to Modern Healthcare, recent instances of nursing home staff inappropriately using patient images on social media has sparked calls for stricter policies regulating social media posts. Patient advocates have called on CMS to more clearly outline penalties nursing home employees can face if they abuse patients by publicly posting degrading images can face.

Notice details

In the notice, CMS said state health officials should ensure nursing home policies prohibit staff from taking audio or video recordings or photographs of patients and using them in potentially demeaning or humiliating manners.

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In addition, CMS urged state officials to quickly investigate any complaints regarding such instances and to report employees involved to state licensing agencies.

CMS also detailed steps nursing homes should take if an employee abuses a patient by publicly posting degrading images. For example, CMS said the facilities should:

  • Implement corrective actions to ensure such an event does not happen again;
  • Implement staffing changes;
  • Increase staffing supervision; and
  • Provide follow-up counseling for patients.

CMS stated that nursing home workers are required to report such cases of abuse to "at least one law enforcement agency." Any employee who fails to report such incidents could face "various penalties, including civil monetary penalties," according to the agency.

In addition, CMS said nursing homes where such incidents occur could face citations and fines and possibly be terminated from Medicare.

CMS in the notice also outlined uniform standards for how such incidents should be reported and the severity of the sanctions facilities and individuals could face for violating those standards.

Reaction

Some patient advocates said the CMS notice did not go far enough.

Robyn Grant, director of public policy and advocacy at the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care, said, "Stronger, more explicit guidance indicating who must report and the penalties for failure to do so would have better ensured compliance."

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Industry stakeholders said the notice outlines policies many facilities already enforce.

American Health Care Association spokesperson Greg Crist said, "We have taken responsibility and made a concerted, nationwide effort to educate and share best practices with our centers not only on how to detect and root out this abuse, but also proactive steps to ensure it doesn't happen in the first place."

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who has sought clarification on federal policies regarding such incidents, called CMS' guidance "welcome and necessary." Grassley said, "Nursing homes are obligated under the law to keep their residents free from abuse. Exploitation on social media is a form of abuse, and the agency memo makes that clear. We need to prevent it, and we need to punish it when it happens" (Modern Healthcare, 8/8; Ornstein/Huseman, ProPublica, 8/8).

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