Joint Commission: No social media posts about nursing home residents

Posting about nursing home residents on Facebook, Snapchat or other forms of social media “violates more codes than you could ever imagine,” according to the Joint Commission, which advised facilities to draft their own social media policies.

In a blog post by Gina Zimmerman, executive director of the commission’s nursing home and home care accreditation programs, she mentioned stories about “nursing home patients and residents being photographed for Snapchat and other social media outlets covered in their own feces, getting ready for the shower or engaged in sexual relations." All of those examples would violate commission accreditation standards.

“The images are appalling and only humiliate vulnerable patients and residents served in nursing homes,” she wrote.

Nursing homes should take the lead on stopping these abuses, she said, by instituting social media abuse policies and training employees. Reporting those abuses should be part of the same “blame-free” systems all accredited facilities are expected to implement.

Employees may mistakenly believe the posts are allowed for several reasons, Zimmerman wrote. One may be the standard policy residents sign allowing their photos to be used for marketing materials, but to the commission, those policies don’t allow for social media posts on an employee’s personal accounts using a patient’s image.

The other misguided belief, according to Zimmerman, is social media posts aren’t covered by patient privacy protections in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

“Even when the offending staff member doesn’t list the facility name on his or her social media profile, it can still be discovered with a simple Internet search of staff’s name or comments about where the staff member is working, or the geographical area and, therefore, may still be a HIPPA violation,” she wrote.

Employees shouldn’t think their posts will go unnoticed, with Zimmerman saying HHS’s Office of Civil Rights “already opened investigations of breaches affecting 500 individuals and more will surely follow.” For organizations, one social media post could end up costing a facility tens of thousands of dollars in fines, along with being “harmful and degrading” to residents.