Skip to content
Naked Security Naked Security

Feds move to stop social media mockery of nursing home residents

Workers sharing degrading/intimate/nonconsensual photos and videos may mean facilities get fined, written up or cut from Medicare.

You’ve probably seen the stories:

A nurse aide takes a photo of a long-term care resident covered in feces and shares it on Snapchat.

A nursing assistant takes a photo of an Alzheimer’s patient while she was on the toilet with her private parts exposed, and again shares it on Snapchat.

In December, ProPublica compiled 47 such incidents that have occurred since 2012, all concerning workers at nursing homes and assisted-living centers who’ve shared photos or videos of residents on social media networks without the residents’ permission; often without the knowledge of these people, who are often cognitively impaired; and all too often with the motive of humiliating them.

Enough is enough.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, an agency within the US Department of Health and Human Services, on Friday sent out a memo spelling out guidelines that forbid employees from taking demeaning or humiliating photos and videos of residents.

The memo went out to state health departments, which help the Feds to enforce nursing home regulations.

It said that the state health departments should start checking to make sure that all nursing homes have policies prohibiting staff from capturing these images, which have included not only people covered in feces, but those who are naked or even dead.

Some of the images have even captured abuse.

One example: in 2012, a former nurse aide posted a video showing a 92-year-old dementia sufferer, in a wheelchair, being harassed. The video showed a hand tugging at her hair while voices could be heard taunting her, saying things like…

The boss lady said that if you don’t wash the dishes, she will slap the black off you…

The memo instructs state officials to quickly investigate such complaints and report offending workers to state licensing agencies for investigation and possible discipline.

CMS said in the memo that it’s nursing homes’ responsibility to protect residents’ privacy, to prohibit abuse, to provide training on how to prevent abuse, and to investigate any and all allegations of abuse.

According to NPR, penalties can include fines, citations and possibly being cut from the Medicare program.

As it is, there’s a patchwork of laws that may or may not make it illegal to post these images.

One example: Iowa health officials last month discovered that state law didn’t prohibit the feces-covered Snapchat photo, given that the resident’s genitals weren’t visible in the photo.

As it now stands, the state law designed to protect dependent adults from abuse was last updated in 2008, before the launch of many social media platforms.

As ProPublica reported, that law bars “sexual exploitation of a dependent adult by a caretaker.” Given the lack of genitals in the photo, the law didn’t cover the incident.

Iowa officials are working to change that law early next year.

Following ProPublica’s publishing of nursing home resident abuse stories, Sen. Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked Snapchat and other social media companies what they were doing to stop this abuse, called on the Justice Department to weigh in, and asked the HHS inspector general what it’s doing to stop elder abuse.

In his 28 June letter to Snapchat, Grassley said that Snapchat in particular makes it virtually impossible to report abuse when these types of images get shared:

When an individual tries to report a safety concern on behalf of someone else, say, an elderly nursing home resident, the tool produces the message: ‘We are unable to take action based on third-party reports.

An elderly nursing home resident victim is unlikely to have his or her own Snapchat account or have the knowledge or ability necessary to report abusive snaps on his or her own behalf.

And this was Grassley’s response to the memo CMS sent out on Friday:

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.

I appreciate the emphasis on training for all staff who provide care and services to residents, as well as the need to report the abuse to law enforcement and to encourage staff to report abuse, and the requirement for State Survey Agencies to conduct compliance reviews to ensure protective policies are in place.

While the vast majority of nursing home staff will never exploit residents this way, the rules ought to be crystal clear across the board.


This is very depressing. I thought with the current rhetoric of the U.S. presidential campaigns we have hit a new low. I was wrong.

The one thing that has struck me time and time again is how people behave when they believe that they are anonymous and can’t be held accountable for their words and/or actions. My first exposure to this rude awakening was decades ago with the CB radio craze – I was shocked as to what people would say over the radio because they were “invisible”.

Fast-forward to today. The same phenomenon is present with social media, but I feel it is much worse. I avoid most of it because it is too upsetting to read. Even on benign forums, such as technology forums, it is common for people to post hideous, demeaning comments. As another example, even well-produced, beautiful and benign YouTube videos get trashed by trolls.

With the controls removed, the masks come off and we see what is underneath.

My take-away is that, socially, we have advanced very little and have learned even less over the course of our evolution. Please, someone reassure me that we are actually advancing as a species.


You’re right; the US political climate draws highly vocal people from under some seriously disturbing rocks. The media outlets in general exacerbate this, as there’s far more money to be made in catalyzing fear and mistrust than in fostering cooperation or understanding–or this just in…unbiased reporting. This discourages me to the verge of covering my ears and screaming.

However, the existence of charity organizations and the thousands volunteering to further those goals proves that not all hope is yet lost. While the perpetrators in this story exemplify sordid and heinous aspects of humanity, others travel to distant lands at their own expense to share food, supplies, treatment, and love–modeling behavior for all of us to emulate.

Around ten years ago I was having a tough time and feeling discouraged about life in general. A TV commercial advertised a product I can’t recall but showed a couple random acts of decency like holding a door for a stranger or picking up something that missed a sidewalk trash can. The narrator said, “At Forgotten Company we believe that people are basically good.” It clearly didn’t impact me in the way intended by the marketing company, but it did far more by reminding me that there is still kindness and goodwill out there to be seen–and shared–and the worst we can do is lose hope for finding it.

I hope today I can help continue the same. Have a smile on me, MossyRock.


Bryan, thanks. Yes, I’ll take that smile you offered!


One more MossyRock (or anyone else finding this article and hoping for one which contains better news)–Twitter has gained ground on silencing horrific content propagated by Daesh and other terrorist sources:


Regarding care homes staff it’s the same in the UK and probably everywhere. Private care home owners live the life of the rich while paying rock bottom wages to their staff. Decent employees can’t bear to see what goes on around them and leave. This leaves the sort of staff who do it because they won’t get employment elsewhere. The sort of people that take photos as described above should not be allowed to look after animals, never mind people, they clearly have an enjoyment for abusing others in their DNA. Very sad, but all the time governments wash their hands of the older generation nothing will change. Good luck to the FBI in their (probably underfunded) efforts though.


I do not understand why care facilities do not out-and-out ban personal devices in resident areas by employees. There should be no place a worker is able to use a personal mobile device, period! They are there to work not to soicalize on the internet. This whole attitude that employers must allow use of personal device is sooo out of control; let them socialize when they get home.


This is why, if, when I get older and possibly can no longer take care of myself, I would rather die then go into a nursing home and if you never married, have no children, are an only child, have no family left, what are you living for anyways? To go into a nursing home and be taken care of by people who don’t know you from a hole in a wall, are getting paid ow wages and have bad days themselves, the quality of life would not be there. Let me go, thank you very much.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to get the latest updates in your inbox.
Which categories are you interested in?
You’re now subscribed!