Government on Nursing Home Photos: Throwing the Baby out with the Bath Water?

The federal government  warned state officials this month to keep a sharp eye on nursing homes to ensure that they have — and are following — policies that prohibit staff from posting unauthorized photos of residents.

The memo from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services follows media reports of nursing home staff taking “dehumanizing” pictures and videos of residents.

The memo specifically mentions pictures that showed “exposed bodily parts, such as genitalia, breasts, or of posting examples of bodily functions such as toileting, provision of incontinence care exposing perineal areas, and/or fecal material on body parts or beddings/furnishings.”   

The nursing home must supervise staff in order to assure that policies are implemented as written, it said. Staff may not protect coworkers but are responsible for reporting depictions they see online. States must investigate in person to determine whether the nursing home is in compliance with federal requirements.  

“Taking unauthorized photographs or recordings of residents in any state of dress or undress using any type of equipment (e.g., cameras, smart phones, and other electronic devices) and/or keeping or distributing them through multimedia messages or on social media networks is a violation of a resident’s right to privacy and confidentiality.”   

Overall, regardless of the status of clothing, photographing or recording residents and their private space without their — or their designated representative’s — written consent violates a right to privacy and confidentiality, the memo said.   

But officials at a nursing association told me they see another side of the picture and don’t want to see a situation where taking pictures of residents is completely taboo.  

“I’ve been in long-term care for 30 years and I’ve never seen a picture that hasn’t been sweet — with the resident with a kitten or a puppy or blowing their birthday cake out,”  Sherrie  Dornberger, executive director of the National Association of Directors of Nursing Administration in Long Term Care, told me.  

J. Hudson Garrett Jr., editor-in-chief of the group's journal, said some residents “desperately need human connection and you don't want the pendulum to go from one extreme to the other where there's no pictures.”   

Read more about the government’s memo at  

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