Protecting our seniors

Dear Friends,

I recently wrote to you about my visit to Westminster Village in Dover, a senior living facility that is leading the way in providing some of our state’s seniors with high quality healthcare and social services. I found great joy in the opportunity to meet with residents, and to see first-hand how Westminster’s staff is working hard to enhance the quality of life for its residents.

I believe that we have a moral obligation to care for the “least of these” in our society – and that responsibility drives much of my work in Congress. That’s why, earlier this week, I sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) about its efforts to protect the privacy and dignity of our seniors in nursing home facilities.

A recent investigation by ProPublica revealed deeply concerning incidents where nursing home professionals posted disturbing and inappropriate photos or videos of residents on social media, like Snapchat and Facebook. The investigation identified 35 incidents, across 19 states, in which workers at these facilities shared on social media photos of residents – some of whom were not fully clothed or were suffering from dementia, documenting mistreatment. This type of abuse is unacceptable, and certainly falls short of our moral obligation to the “least of these” in our society.

For me, this subject is deeply troubling – and personal. For the last few years of her life, my mother, who had dementia, spent time in a nursing home. I know this subject is deeply personal for a lot of people, too. We all want our loved ones to receive the quality of care and attention they deserve from the professionals to whom we entrust their care.

In my letter to HHS, I asked Office of Civil Rights Director Samuels about the agency’s efforts to address these disturbing incidents and provide guidance to prohibit inappropriate use of social media in nursing homes. As technology continues to evolve, we need to do all that we can to ensure that our seniors in nursing homes are protected from this type of abuse. And we should do all that we can to ensure that the privacy and dignity of our loved ones in nursing homes are not being put at risk because of poor oversight.

We owe our senior citizens the highest quality of care possible, and I will continue to work with the Administration and my colleagues in Congress to see that caregivers, including those who work at nursing homes, have guidance and resources in place to ensure safe treatment of our nation’s elderly. I also believe that we owe a great deal of gratitude to the many caregivers and professionals across the country – like those at Westminster Village – who dedicate their many days’ work to serving and caring for our elderly. 

 As always, I invite you to reach out to me on this or other issues through email, or by contacting me on Twitter and on Facebook.