It is elder abuse plain and simple. It must not, cannot and should not be tolerated

By Steve Moran

On December 21, 2015 the Washington Post published this story: Nursing home workers have been posting abusive photos of elderly on social media. It will curl your hair in horror.   

The article starts out like this:

Nursing home workers across the country are posting embarrassing and dehumanizing photos of elderly residents on social media networks such as Snapchat, violating their privacy, dignity and, sometimes, the law.

ProPublica has identified 35 instances since 2012 in which workers at nursing homes and assisted-living centers have surreptitiously shared photos or videos of residents, some of whom were partially or completely naked.

At least 16 cases involved Snapchat, a social media service in which photos appear for a few seconds and then disappear with no lasting record.

The Good and The Bad

The bad is obvious; it is elder abuse plain and simple. It must not, cannot and should not be tolerated. The perpetrators should be publicly prosecuted and shamed.  

The silver lining is that, in essentially all of the cases, the abusers were caught when a fellow employee reported them and that is terrific.

It is terrible because it makes people afraid of our communities. It makes them not trust us with their loved ones. It makes people wait as long as possible to move in.

Please Not The Wrong Solution

The instinctual reaction is to create new policies, procedures, rules and to do more training. It is more or less what the articles suggests as a solution. At some level this stuff needs to be part of what you do, but if anyone thinks, that as a for instance prohibiting staff members from carrying or using their smartphone will solve the problem, they are missing the mark.

When team members misbehave in such a horrific way (as opposed to making dumb mistakes, which if we are honest well all do) it is for one of two reasons:

  1. They are bad people who need to be fired yesterday or, better yet, they needed to be weeded out in the hiring process so their names never show up on your payroll, or;

  2. They are decent people who hate their job and their managers and have no constructive way to make it better.

The reality is when team members abuse residents they do so because they do not respect their leaders. They do these kinds of things because it is an under-handed, unhealthy way to strike back at the boss (talking about those in the #2 category).

The problem is that no matter how many policies, procedures, and trainings, you do this kind of behavior will not stop. In fact there is a high probability that taking these steps will, in fact, make it worse. It will make the workplace a little more onerous. It will make good employees feel like their leaders don’t trust them.

“It Was Just a Butt”

The most horrifying quote it the whole story was from a nursing assistant in Indiana who pleaded guilty to one count of voyeurism:  “They just blew everything out of proportion,” she said. “It was just a picture of her butt.”

I wish I could talk to her. Would she want that for herself or her mother or grandmother, someone she loved, respected or cared about? I find myself wondering if somehow the culture was such that it was just a job or worse . . . I don’t know how a policy or procedure or training can fix that.

Maybe she was a hard case who should have been fired or never hired . . . but maybe she was someone who needed love from her leaders so that she could learn to love her residents.