Thompson Health’s M.M. Ewing Continuing Care Center, a nursing home in Canandaigua, NY, has discovered that photos and videos of patients have been recorded on smartphones and have been shared to a private group on Snapchat. Photos were taken of at least one resident and were viewed by members of the group. The employees concerned have now been fired for violating HIPAA Rules, patient privacy, and the nursing home’s policies.
However, that is not the end of the matter. The privacy breaches are now being investigated by the New York Department of Health and the state attorney general’s office. According to Rachel Shippee, the state attorney general’s Deputy Press Secretary, the privacy breach is under investigation by the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, which helps to ensure nursing home residents are protected from abuse, neglect, mistreatment and violation of their rights to dignity and privacy.
Thompson Health said that the pictures and videos were not shared publicly. Sharing was limited to a private group consisting of nursing home employees. Thompson Health is getting in touch with the family members of the residents affected by the breach to apologize.
This is not the first camera-related incident that Thompson Health has discovered. In January, Thompson Health discovered a camera had been placed in a unisex bathroom at the hospital. The memory card had been removed from the camera. The incident was reported to authorities but they were not able to identify the employee responsible.
Following reports of privacy violations at nursing homes, ProPublica conducted an investigation into the sharing of images of nursing home residents in 2015. The results of the investigation showed that the practice of photographing and taking videos of residents in compromising and degrading positions without consent was commonplace. In many cases, the videos and images had been shared on social media networks.
The study identified at total of 35 cases since 2012 with 22 of them involving images being shared on Snapchat. A more recent case occurred at an assisted-living facility at Parkside Manor in Kenosha, WI, where a nursing assistant took pictures of an Alzheimer’s patient and shared the pictures via Snapchat. The nursing assistant was dismissed from work when the HIPAA breach was discovered.
The CMS took action after the publication of the ProPublica report and sent a memorandum to state health departments reminding them of their responsibilities to protect nursing home residents from this form of abuse.