Incident at Thompson Health's nursing home should spark discussion, caution, says Office for the Aging official

CANANADAIGUA — Just a quick snap of a patient without their knowledge cost some employees at Thompson Health's M.M. Ewing Continuing Care Center in Canandaigua their jobs and consequently launched a state investigation.

Thompson Health says a certified nursing assistant (CNA) who worked there was accused of taking a picture of one of the patients without their knowledge, sending it out through Snapchat.

"I think it's a wake-up call for a lot of organizations who deal with older adults," stated Irene Coveny, director of Ontario County Office for the Aging.

Coveny says this case should spark conversation in similar facilities as society continues to be ingrained in such a digital age.

She added, "It's important we educate our staff and caregivers that their privacy and dignity is important."

A spokesperson for Thompson Health said there is no evidence that the pictures of the residents were used maliciously or shared publicly outside a small group of individuals on Snapchat.

However, it was enough to fire the employees who were involved after someone who got the photo reported it to the vice president of long-term care.

Thompson Health said those employees admitted that they deliberately concealed their inappropriate activity from the residents and their families.

What isn't clear is if it created a HIPAA violation, referring to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which provides provisions for safeguarding medical information. It would depend on what information was shared.

"It's definitely a confidentiality issue and every organization is required to have a policy surrounding that, it's definitely a breach of that privacy," Coveny stated.

The state Office of the Attorney General and Department of Health are investigating this incident while local police are not involved.

Thompson Health says it regrets what happened and is reaching out to those families to apologize. The company is also adding more training for workers going forward.