In Mississippi, a man obtained access to the continuing care retirement community where a U.S. State Senator’s wife was being cared for due to dementia. The man, Clayton Kelly, took an unauthorized photograph of the Senator’s wife. He then used that photograph in a video that he used in his political blog to criticize the Senator. Police are investigating how Kelly gained access to the facility, but Kelly’s wife claims that her husband had been given a visitor’s pass that allowed him onto the grounds and his attorney claims that the photograph was taken through an open door during regular visiting hours, and thus, Kelly did nothing wrong. The whole situation has gained national attention because it involves a U.S. Senator in the middle of a primary campaign and the possibility that Kelly has some connection to the Senator’s main rival in that primary election. However, there really is a lesson in all of this for nursing facilities.

The Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 provides basic rights for residents of nursing homes. Residents have the right to privacy and confidentiality and they have the right to dignity, respect, and freedom. Mr. Kelly most certainly invaded her privacy and in the context of his politically motivated video violated her right to dignity and respect. There is no doubt in that. But what about the facility involved in this incident? A spokesman for the facility did state that they do have security protocols in place; they patrol the grounds, they have a checkpoint where anyone entering must check in at, and they have other security measures in place.

Numerous examples like this are becoming more commonplace. Is there anything more a facility can do to protect their residents in circumstances such as these? Given we live in an age where everyone has a cell phone and almost all of them have a camera, it can be quite daunting to consider the options. To ensure complete privacy, a facility would have to require visitors to hand over such personal property upon entering a facility. However, short of that, facilities can and should consider policies prohibiting possession of cameras or other recording devices, by staff and prominently warning the visiting public that unauthorized photographs or videos of residents (other than family members) is forbidden. Staff should be instructed to kindly remind visitors of these privacy rules and to report non-compliance promptly to management.