Creating a Strong Social Media Policy for Senior Living Facilities - Part I

Creating a Strong Social Media Policy for Senior Living Facilities – Part I

Social media and other web-based tools have provided many industries, including the senior living sector, with additional methods of communication and information sharing. Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others can be used to effectively improve healthcare but they also present potential risks to residents, employees and providers and can result in the distribution of poor quality information, breaches of resident privacy, violation of personal-professional boundaries, and reputational damage to facilities, among other issues.

To mitigate the risks that come with social media, senior living facilities must have a policy in place that protects their residents, employees and the facility itself. In this article, we will review what issues should be addressed when creating a social media policy for senior living facilities. In our next article, we will go over staff training on social media use.

A social media policy should encompass the following:

  • Define what employees can or cannot do on social media. This will operate as a code of conduct or guide that clearly outlines what the facility expects from its employees regarding online behavior. This includes not violating any applicable laws, particularly with regard to HIPAA/privacy laws, and any company policies regarding things such as harassment or discrimination. It also means not sharing or disclosing company information otherwise publicly available, not using company logos and other similar materials without permission, and not embedding links to company websites on personal social media accounts.
  • The social media policy should be included with other policies set forth by the facility governing employee conduct. Employees should sign an acknowledgement form that they received and read the facility’s social media policy. Employee training on the policy should also take place.
  • Emphasize decorum regardless of the topic and mandate that any language that can be viewed as hostile to the company, its staff, its vendors, and other groups can and will be dealt with in the context of applicable law.
  • Licensed personnel need to be extra careful as their applicable licensing authority (such as the Board of Nursing) may view their public actions as a violation of a license code or standard and take applicable action as permitted against the licensee.
  • If an employee violates the facility’s social media policy, he or she should understand what disciplinary actions will take place, up to and including termination.

In creating or improving a social media policy there are also certain issues to be aware of so that an employer doesn’t run into the possibility of violating a employee’s right to engage in “protected” activity under the National Labor Relations Act. Here are some tips:

  • Don’t ban access completely to social media platforms. Employees can access social media from their smart phones, anyway. The best approach is to proactively educate staff in acceptable practices.
  • Involve staff in the development of a social media policy, so that there is a ‘buy-in’ from the onset.
  • Look at what other health care providers are doing to address issues related to confidentiality, inappropriate online behavior, and other similar topics.
  • Review the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) guidance on social media, which emphasizes that an employer’s social media policy should be clearly written and discuss where prohibitions are listed.

Senior living facilities – from independent living communities to assisted living and nursing homes – also need to implement a process to periodically review their social media policy. As the social media landscape is continually changing, it’s critical to ensure that a facility’s policy is not only effective but also legally comprehensive and consistent with new technologies and trends.

Additionally, if any social media abuses take place, be sure to investigate them immediately. Schedule regular website reviews by an appropriate member of management to scan for and identify social media misuse or abuse. If a facility uncovers an inappropriate photo or post, launch a thorough investigation to ensure that any harm to a resident or the facility is limited. The investigation should also determine the source of the inappropriate post, when it happened, remedies and possible revisions to social media policies that could deter future violations. Appropriate disciplinary action should always take place.

Caitlin Morgan specializes in insuring independent living communities, assisted living facilities, nursing homes and other long-term care centers. We provide comprehensive insurance and risk management services to address the various exposures this niche market faces. For more information about our insurance programs, please contact us at 877.226.1027.