Be smart about phones, social media

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Lois A. Bowers
Lois A. Bowers

If you haven't reviewed your human resources manual lately, now may be a good time to check your policies related to cellphone and social media use by employees during work hours — or to formulate such policies if your community doesn't have any.

Smartphones made appearances in two McKnight's Senior Living news items last week.

One story shared that a former nursing assistant had been charged with a felony for taking video of a partially clad resident at the Wisconsin assisted living and memory care community where she worked and then posting it via the Snapchat app.

The other article relayed that a former certified nursing assistant at an Illinois assisted living and memory care community had been arraigned on charges that he hired three men to have sex with female residents with dementia while he videotaped them. Local authorities reportedly found incriminating evidence related to the crimes on the man's cellphone. They aren't sure whether he planned to share the videos via social media or some other means.

And, as you know, such incidents aren't limited to communities in the Midwest.

Around the time that we were writing about these cases, I spoke with Argentum's chief operating officer, Maribeth Bersani, about legislation being introduced in Utah that could make it the second state to require that assisted living communities grant requests from residents or their representatives to operate or install cameras in resident rooms. Incidents such as the two discussed in our new items motivate resident families and lawmakers to seek such laws.

Although not referring to a specific incident, Bersani noted: “There are all of these horrible cases where caregivers are taking pictures and posting them on the Internet.” The Utah law, if enacted, she added, could result in more instances of “something that's captured on video that could somehow be gotten out there and ... violate people's privacy.”

So what can providers do? In addition to conducting pre-employment criminal background checks and training staff to report suspected abuse, neglect or anything that seems out of the ordinary, Bersani said, some Argentum member communities are looking into ways that they can limit employee use of cellphones while working. The task can be difficult, she said; some staff members need access to their phones in case emergencies arise with the children or aging parents for whom they are responsible in their personal lives.

Even if workers use their phones during business hours, however, Bersani said, policies exist — or should exist — to prohibit staff members from photographing residents, including via their cellphones. “It's hard to believe that you would have to have a policy telling someone that that is something wrong, but we have policies for everything now,” she said. “That's definitely one that [providers] need to have at the top of the list.”

Lois A. Bowers is senior editor of McKnight's Senior Living. Follow her on Twitter at @Lois_Bowers.

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