This summer, a dispute over social media posts began brewing at a Silverado Senior Living community in Sugar Land, Texas, and left some family members unable to visit their mother, a resident.
A civil rights lawsuit filed in federal court in Houston on July 29 by children Mackey Glen Peterson, Don Leslie Peterson and Lonny Peterson alleges that Silverado sent them a letter on July 25, stating that their visitation privileges had been revoked “based upon the posting of exploitive and invasive materials which also violate the privacy rights of other Silverado residents.”
The sons allege Silverado has violated their constitutional rights and failed or refused to provide them access to “reasonable and necessary visitation.”
According to the suit, Silverado’s letter required the children and their attorney to agree to immediately remove all pictures, videos and other content depicting or relating to their mother Ruby Peterson and/or any other resident of the facility. It also allegedly called for them to refrain from any further social media postings until the state-court litigation is resolved.
The childrens’ posts allegedly include their mother and/or other residents or staff who were inadvertently included in videos and photographs, according to an article in the Examiner written by one of their attorneys, Candice Leonard Schwager.
“Silverado encourages families to visit, but also has an obligation to protect residents and uphold their privacy rights,” the operator said in an email statement to SHN. “The … family members involved in this family dispute violated those rights by capturing and publicly posting photos and videos online, which clearly showed the identity of several Silverado residents, visitors and staff.
“They were asked to remove the postings, and visitation was restricted until the content was removed from public view. Once confirmed that the photographs and videos were removed, visitation rights were reinstated and the family has been visiting their loved one at the community,” Silverado said.
The incident arose from a previous dispute having to do with the children’s power of attorney status. The three sons have been involved in a Harris County probate court battle with two other siblings who have been overseeing their mother’s care and finances under the authority granted by a power of attorney. The sons question the validity of that power of attorney and take issue with the way their two siblings have been handling their mother’s affairs, according to reports.
“Unfortunately this matter is a result of the children of a resident being involved in a legal dispute over who should exercise the power of attorney (POA) governing the resident’s healthcare, among other issues,” Silverado said. “Three of the family members that are not currently assigned as the resident’s POA have made a number of complaints against Silverado, which have been found to be without merit by the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services.”
The Peterson sons had previously filed in Texas District Court for conspiracy, breach of trust, breach of fiduciary duty, false imprisonment, assault, battery, breach of privacy and conversion, the Examiner report states.
But the case raises an important question among senior living providers: How far should they go in monitoring social media of residents and their families?
In general, most senior living communities that have social media policies have a waiver regarding publicity in marketing, says Randy Eilts, vice president of public relations at GlynnDevins, a marketing and advertising firm specialized in senior living. It’s essentially an agreement that states the operator can use the resident’s image for marketing or publicity purposes. In independent living communities, the waivers are often signed upon move-in. These policies, though, are less clear in defining whether family members or visitors can use such photos, especially in higher acuity settings.
“When it comes to an assisted living or skilled nursing site, because of HIPAA and privacy regulations, there would have to be some sort of consent signed either from the resident or a family member who might have some authority over their loved one in that community,” Eilts says.
This creates somewhat of a gray area in terms of social media policies at assisted living and skilled nursing communities. Because HIPAA protects the identity and information of residents in health care settings, the regulation, to a degree, may prohibit pictures being taken of residents at the Texas memory care community.
“It certainly opens the debate for how people involved in the field of senior living should address social media and their policies,” Eilts says. “It stands to reason … that a social media policy is really a good idea, and it’s necessary to involve your legal team to make sure all of your bases are covered.”
Written by Emily Study