“It’s just totally wrong:” Nursing home workers share invasive pics and videos of seniors on social media

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FRIENDSHIP -- It's a good bet your grandma's not on Snapchat. At least, not on purpose. Across the country -- and in Wisconsin -- young nurse aides are sharing photos and videos of elderly residents on social media, without their knowledge.  It's invasive, embarrassing, and - in some cases - it's a crime.

John L. Miklavicic was born in 1927, the same year the first transatlantic telephone call was placed from New York to London. 87 years later, it's a safe bet he didn't know much about Snapchat. Neither did his son, John M. Miklavicic.

"You have a Snapchat account?" FOX6 Investigative Reporter Bryan Polcyn asked Miklavicic.

"No, I didn't even know what it was 'til they explained it to me," he responded.

Snapchat is a social media app used to share photos and videos called "Snaps" with friends. Unlike Facebook or Twitter, each "Snap" disappears within seconds, unless it's posted to a user's story, where friends can see it for 24 hours.

But what happened in the tiny Adams County village of Friendship, Wisconsin, was hardly an expression of friendship.

"They're in the last years of their life. They deserve respect," Miklavicic said.

The elder Miklavicic had lost his leg to diabetes and his wife to a heart attack when his son placed him at Villa Pines — the nursing home just down the road.

His dementia was so advanced, he would often forget his wife was gone.

"He was going around the halls in his wheelchair, calling for Thelma. You know, 'Thelma, where are you?'" Miklavicic explained about his dad's condition.

Screen shot taken by a co-worker of a video shared to Snapchat. The video showed an employee kicking John Miklavicic's wheelchair and Miklavicic kicking back, as laughter is heard in the background. The caption reads, "Jerk!"

Screen shot taken by a co-worker of a video shared to Snapchat. The video showed an employee kicking John Miklavicic's wheelchair and Miklavicic kicking back, as laughter is heard in the background. The caption reads, "Jerk!"

The staff said he was agitated and, one day, a nurse aide decided to tell her friends about it. She shared a Snapchat video of Miklavicic with the caption "JERK!" across the middle.

"One of the employees was kicking his wheelchair and the Snapchat showed him trying to kick back and other employees laughing in the background," Miklavicic recalled.

No one said a word until three weeks later when a co-worker reported the video to state inspectors.

Villa Pines fired 23-year-old Allexys Meyers, the Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA), who shared the video. The Sheriff's Office sought no criminal charges and Miklavicic says he never heard another word from the nursing home.

"I never got any kind of an apology, sympathy, we're so sorry what happened," Miklavicic said.

For victim's families, it's an act that comes with embarrassment.

FOX6 Investigator Bryan Polcyn sat down with one victim's daughter. She did not want to be identified beyond her first name, Mary. For decades, Mary's mother lived across the street from Lambeau Field until her daughter moved her to assisted living at Brookview Meadows in Green Bay.

It was there that a pair of CNAs were taking photos and videos of residents vomiting, passing stool and showering and sharing them on Snapchat.

One night, 22-year-old Michelle Bulger and 19-year-old Ashley Schumberg engaged in an unorthodox procedure to help Mary's mom with an obstructed bowel. The 84-year-old woman was nude from the waist down. Bulger was gagging and covering her mouth with her T-shirt, while Schaumberg recorded with her phone.  Both of the women were laughing.

"My mom took good care of me all my life," Mary said. "To think that somebody would not treat her in a respectable manner was beyond words. I lost it."

Bulger and Schaumberg were charged with felonies, but pleaded guilty to misdemeanors. They can no longer work as caregivers in state-regulated facilities. AbuseHowever, Mary and her family are going one step further by suing the nursing home for invasion of privacy.

"It's total disrespect and total violation of somebody's privacy," Mary said.

Mary's attorneys, Ann Jacobs and Jackie Chada Nuckels, are teaming up to sue Brookview Meadows.

"Cases like these, we need to shine light on them so they don't happen again," Jacobs said.

"Somebody's dignity and privacy is grossly violated," Nuckels said.

They say it's time to draw attention to a growing problem across the country of caregivers abusing, degrading and humiliating the elderly on social media.

"It is intensely personal," Jacobs said.

It's an issue Greg Crist, a spokesman for the America Health Care Association (AHCA), takes seriously.

"If that were my mother or my grandmother, I wouldn't want that to be shared or posted online," Crist said.

In records for three of the four Wisconsin cases, there are statements that indicate employees were 'laughing' about the inappropriate posts or thought they were 'funny.'

In records for three of the four Wisconsin cases, there are statements that indicate employees were 'laughing' about the inappropriate posts or thought they were 'funny.'

The AHCA is an industry group that represents assisted living centers and nursing homes. Crist says while he doesn't want to see any cases like this, they aren't seen often.

"The good news is it's uncommon. It's rare — one case is one too many," Crist said.

Last winter, the non-profit news team at ProPublica detailed 37 cases of inappropriate social media posts at elder care facilities across the country, including four in Wisconsin. In addition to the cases in Friendship and Green Bay, a CNA in Stoughton shared pictures of  a resident lying naked in bed covered in feces. Earlier this year, a 21-year-old staffer in Kenosha snapped a video of a partially nude, 93-year-old Alzheimer's patient playing tug-of-war with her clothes. At the time, Grace Riedlinger "thought it was funny." Now, she's facing criminal charges.

Nuckels says she sees a pattern with the people involved in these cases.

"It tends to be, sort of, the younger workers who are very active on social media," Nuckels said.

Every Wisconsin case has something in common. Nurse aides had personal cell phones with them while they cared for residents.

"There should not be any cell phones on the floor. Period," Jacobs said.

Crist says most nursing homes already have rules that prohibit staff members from using cell phones in patient rooms.

"If you are in their room, you should not have a device. It should not be out," Crist said.

After a recent inquiry by Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, the AHCA sent all of its members a memo urging them to ban personal electronic devices during work time or in work areas.

"These are invasions of privacy. These are threats to a person`s value, their worth, how they view themselves," Crist said.

The fallout is more crushing for family members.

"There's embarrassment, personally, because we wanted the best for our mom and it didn't turn out that way," Mary said.

Most offenders appear to be young nurse aides who are active on social media.

Most offenders appear to be young nurse aides who are active on social media.

"It was my job to put him somewhere safe," Miklavicic said.

Miklavicic says he is just thankful that someone finally came forward.

"She did the right thing," Miklavicic said.

"They do it sometimes at the risk of their jobs, at the risk of their friendships," Jacobs said about those who choose to turn people in.

It's that exact reason that Miklavicic believes there are many more cases of abuse that need to be exposed. He says if you see it — report it.

"It's your ethical duty," Miklavicic said.

Meyers, Bulger and Schaumberg are all banned from working as caregivers in nursing homes or other state-regulated health care facilities.

Riedlinger is scheduled for a plea hearing in Kenosha County on July 28th.

The case against Brookview Meadows has been moved into arbitration.

Villa Pines sent a statement to FOX 6 News saying, in part, that it has a long-standing policy that "cell phones must be shut off and kept out of designated work areas."

Experts say the key to protecting your loved one when look for a long-term care facility is asking the right questions. With regard to privacy issues, ask the facility if they have policies on cell phone and social media use. Ask to see those policies. And, ask how those policies are enforced.

16 comments

  • Malai

    Unprofessional, dispicable lowlifes! How dare they?! These people trust you and depend on you to provide quality care! This is inexcusable… They should be fined.. Fired… And lose their licenses and NEVER be able to work around the elderly or even children for that matter

  • Klaatu

    Every single one of them should be serving some jail time for their actions…………..but, if the judges don’t send armed car jackers to jail and let them off with probation, why would they incarcerate a photographer?

  • S. Davis

    Look at these CNAs closely. Not one of them looks like they had the intelligence to finish high school. The CNA job is underpaid and attracts those people who are too immature, uneducated and uncompassionate to ever qualify for Nursing school. The ‘training” for a CNA is quick – 17 weeks at some schools – sparse and focuses solely on personal care tasks like bathing and dressing. There’s no or very scant attention paid to the high level of discretion needed in these jobs, no training in basic mental health issues, and no tests given before acceptance to the program to ensure that these people are compassionate, kind, and aware of the importance of the lives that will be in their hands once they’re at work. I think the CNA role should be abolished and personal care of patients returned to LPN’s and RN’s who are expected to show professionalism and growth in their maturity during their training period. Barring these girls from working in state facilities only ensures that they will find jobs in an even less overseen profession – that of caregivers in private homes. The families go off to school and work and leave their vulnerable elderly and/or handicapped family member(s) alone all day with people like this. It’s appalling to know that this is going on, probably in at least 100-fold numbers than have been reported. These girls need to have their certifications revoked and have these reports on their files for the rest of their lives for future employers to see. And what kind of company allows people to have their cellphones on their person all day long? You’re there to WORK, not to text and receive phone calls. What level of attention are they paying to their patients? And why are they alone with a patient long enough for some of these incidents to take place? Aren’t they overseen by RN’s or LPN’s? The nursing home business is just as lax and frightening as the daycare business. Our two most vulnerable populations – the frail elderly and babies – are at the mercy of uneducated, poorly trained, and mentally unfit staff. Both of my parents died too young but when I read stories like this one I am almost glad that they didn’t live long enough to require end of life care.

    • Herman

      Good post! Unfortunately greed will win out–CNAs are here to stay, to keep costs down and maximize profit. Not right…I shudder to think of these poor people being subjected to this level of disrespect once they become dependent and vulnerable. They could be my own parents–will this happen to them?!

    • Priscilla

      It is the younger generation-always on their phones. I hope they can never work in health care again! I cringe to think what will happen when I am old!

      • Dan

        Most cna’s are working to get experience so they have some when they apply to be a nurse… my girlfriend and mother were at a time. They both have now been working in hospitals and patients love them. Do not portrey all cna’s in this view.

  • Kris Madsen

    I appeal to the nature of justice. And that this matter be concluded in a sharp sentence for those that fail to meet basic human rights we all should hold so dear. Proper reporting by 911 is also available by phone. A video display of ‘the horrible truth’ is minuscule and in departs us from the greater good of promoting humane treatment, by proper reporting of the offense of mistreatment to the elderly. That so many employees are simultaneously engaged in improper treatment leaves questions that this abuse is not only systemic to the nursing facility who may be liable. This may be only a symptom, of the greater underlying crime of the an elder-health-care industry. I call also not for justice, but that ethical board be appointed to measure quantitative and qualitative care, that they may annually review how well standard of care are applied. Nursing home engaging in ‘pass the buck’ to employees or industry, is despicable. Not only is a monetary judgement in order, But I encourage SUBSTANTIAL punitive damages. I feel strongly that soft words are as needed to the residents and for the judge to hammer that gavel with a loud financial signal to the nursing home facility. –May justice speak to the spirit of our beloved elderly that they may have peace in our system of governance.

  • JackC

    I put these evil, exploitative women in the same category as rednecks who post videos on YouTube showing animals they’ve shot with rifles, pistols and bows. Many of them are clearly dying for the camera alone, making a sick mockery of sustenance hunting. Most modern sport hunting has long ceased to be essential; it’s just a marketing gear-fest in many cases. Long range “kill shots” are a favorite of these nasty trailer-dwellers. It’s all the same crass lack of respect for life. Google and YouTube are either showcasing it for ad revenue or (hopefully) trying to expose it to the world at large. That may be working, but usually just with famous cases like Cecil the lion.

    • Kris Madsen

      The gears of marketing are designed to Increase trade. Cecil was not a member of our nation, nor did he have human rights. The spectacle of his death would be considered a end-product (to produce joy for the twisted mind of the hunter) not a marketing ploy to attract new business. Your attempt to pass the buck off on the american coverage of cecil as a manner to further blame american tecknological advancement with snapchat (internet press) is nill. My beleif is that the nursing home needs to tell it to the judge and have there check-book ready.

      • JackC

        You mixed the second part of my comment (a segue into sport hunting gear) with the main point about showcasing the pain/death of other people/animals for entertainment. I am not blaming Snapchat per se, but it certainly does make such idiocy more likely. Technology is hardly all good, anyhow. Look at violent video games which partly motivated the recent Munich mall shooting. This topic can go off on many tangents..

      • Kris Madsen

        Ahh. Yes, talk can go in many directions. And I thank this website for hosting this chat. But talk is not whats need here. Monetary damages speak far more than my words would. I do value any reply you have, but I think I shall close with the following thought… May the continued effort to provide dignity to the elderly be His will. Use the hands of those who care for them to the best of Your limitless ability.

    • Herman

      No one is taking granny out with a long range “kill shot”. You show a crass lack of respect for the intelligence of others reading this forum, and for dignity of these abused nursing home residents when you try to somehow connect elder abuse to your agenda to protest hunting. Why don’t you take your agenda and head for some rednecking hating website and forum? Btw, I am not a hunting supporter, just someone who cares about the topic, elder abuse.

      • JackC

        Where did you get the idea I was downplaying elder abuse? I compared it to another form of evil for context. Putting suffering on camera is the big analogy. Those who literally kill for personal entertainment are the lowest of the low, and it carries over into other aspects of their lives. We could investigate those nurses’ backgrounds for redneck (or ghetto) lineage; same general traits. This may seem off topic at first glance but it really isn’t.

  • Toad

    Social media is everywhere. There’s public cameras, there’s police cameras, there’s cameras on you’re phone. All of it is linked to the internet. Like it or not. . WE ARE ALL ON CAMERA NOW!!! Everyone.. Plain and simple

Comments are closed.