Balancing Risk: Use of Technology in Assisted Living Environments
It’s estimated that more than 735,000 individuals nationwide live in assisted living settings, according to the National Center for Assisted Living. As baby boomers age and increasingly more individuals move into assisted living environments, the industry as a whole faces new challenges and risks that go beyond slips and falls, including how the use of technology by a new generation of seniors entering these facilities. Following is a discussion of some these risks:
Access to Internet/Wi-Fi and other Technology: Residents in assisted living facilities increasingly demand access to technology. They want access to a computer with Internet connection to surf the web and the ability to Skype to speak with their families, for example. With the benefits of technology also come some inherent risks that a facility needs to address, especially since elderly individuals may not be as tech-savvy as their younger counterparts. A facility should address these issues by asking the following questions in order to strike a balance between the needs of residents and the entity’s potential for liability:
- Must a facility monitor the sites residents access on its Wi-Fi network?
- Is the facility liable if a resident does something improper when using its network?
- Should certain websites be blocked from residents?
- What actions must be taken to prevent a resident from unknowingly becoming a victim of financial or sexual exploitation online?
Moreover, all facilities should have a policy that clearly defines proper online activity. The policy at minimum should include: the acknowledgement that some content may be harmful, improper, misleading or offensive; responsibilities of the user; delineation of what is considered unacceptable use; reservation of facility’s right to terminate Wi-Fi/Internet access to resident; indemnification; and limitation of liability.
Cameras/Smartphones: Smartphones provide a specialized example of the potential for issues. For example, often users inadvertently share location information when using their phones to connect with the Internet or when interacting through social media. Those location data can result in unwanted tracking by third parties. Moreover, smartphones include a camera, which could prove to be precarious in the hands of some residents. They may end up providing more information than they intend when they take and transmit photos of themselves. For instance, photos might indicate that a person is at a particular address, sometimes without nearby friends or family.
Cameras can also be risky in the hands of people with impaired judgment. In a study by the AARP, it was reported that many seniors engage in sexting (the transmission of sexually explicit photographs through a smartphone’s texting capability). In fact, in a non-scientific survey on the AARP website, more than 35% of senior citizens indicate that they have sexted at least once. Residents, therefore, have one more potential hazard in maintaining privacy on the electronic highway. Camera and smartphone usage may be covered in the facility’s computer use policy and procedures.
Caitlin-Morgan specializes in the insurance needs of nursing home & assisted living facilities. We can also provide you with risk management in helping your insureds mitigate exposures. Give us a call at 877.226.1027.