Elder abuse on social media sites rising and causing concern

On Your Side: Elderly abuse posted on social media

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- When Jacksonville attorney Steve Watrel was looking for a nursing home for his father, he took into consideration something he'd never had to before.

"How do we deal with degrading, humiliating photos by nursing home employees?" Watrel, who litigates cases against nursing homes, says.

It happened last week in Ohio. A former nursing home worker was arrested for allegedly performing lewd acts and exposing herself to a 100-year-old resident with dementia. A fellow employee caught the whole thing on video and turned it over to authorities.

"You've got some younger people thinking this is kind of a funny thing, some of them should never be working in a nursing home, and you've got frail seniors, so that's a real big issue right now," Watrel says.

In many of the cases documented so far, workers who care for elderly take a video of something inappropriate. Sometimes the videos are recorded at a nursing home and other times when caretakers are working with elderly who live alone.

Then, workers are posting the videos to social media sites like Instagram and Facebook, degrading a vulnerable population even more as the video gets shared.

"Who would have thought that someone would use social media in this way?" said Linda Levin, Executive Director at ElderSource.

A database created by watchdog ProPublica shows social media abuse is on the rise. They've tracked 47 incidents since 2012, not counting the most recent one in Ohio.

"I think we'll probably see more of that and our hope at ElderSource is that people who find these things happening, or hear of it, report them," Levin says.

Reports of abuse, including those that happen online, can be made confidentially in Florida.

Still, Levin says abuse issues are historically under reported. "It completely crosses the line, when you're using something that's meant for good, and use it to hurt people who are vulnerable and don't have the opportunity to protect themselves," she says.

Watrel says he believes laws that hold elder care workers accountable need to catch up with online vulnerability. "I think a specific law should be passed, a criminal law, to deal with this specific issue."

In the meantime, he says ask facilities and care works about their social media policy in an effort to keep loved ones safe.

© 2017 WTLV-TV


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