Have you ever taken part in conversations similar to the ones below?

“Mrs. Warren is on a new medication and I’ve noticed that she doesn’t have much of an appetite lately,” you mention to the nurse who is relieving you for the day at a shift-change meeting.

“Mrs. Warren is recovering in the hospital and will be returning in a few days,” you tell a group of concerned residents after Mrs. Warren asked you to provide her friends with an update on her condition.

“Mrs. Warren and her family were having a fight about money earlier today,” you say to a co-worker as you walk through the lobby after your shift.

The first two examples demonstrate the proper way to share private information about a resident, while the final example shows how information is inappropriately shared. What you may not realize is that when it comes to your residents’ privacy, the information you share, who you share it with, and where you share it, is highly regulated. Not only are you breaking the standards of privacy that your employer had instituted, you could also be breaking state and federal laws by not complying with the law.

How Privacy Policies Are Implemented

As noted above, a resident’s right to privacy is outlined and regulated on three levels: through the senior care facility that employs you, through state laws, and through federal laws.

By Your Employer

In most cases you’ll need access to the personal and confidential information about your residents in order to perform your job properly. For example, information on health conditions, medications they take and even information of their family dynamics, help you with caring for your residents. Additional personal information can be learned, inadvertently, through a resident’s mail, financial papers, photos, or journals that are prominent in their living areas.

Your residents are entitled to specific rights in their senior living environment. This includes the right to privacy and the right for residents’ records to be kept private and confidential. Discussions about resident issues should be done in a private setting, in a confidential manner, and only with those who are qualified to know. Be especially cautious when holding conversations in non-private areas of your facility, including the lobby, therapy rooms, employee break rooms, dining area, and resident living quarters. Off-site conversations about residents should never take place.

At many senior living communities, new employees are asked to sign a Confidentiality Agreement. Even with no agreement in place, discussing a resident’s information in front of non-essential employees, other residents or visitors, or in a public space could violate state or federal laws.

By Your State

The senior care community that you work for is regulated by state codes. State regulations include provisions covering patient confidentiality, which protect both personal and health information. Disregard for maintaining the confidentiality of your residents’ information can cause issues for your employer during the annual survey.

By Federal Law

In 1996 the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was introduced and in 2003 it was enacted as a national law. HIPAA governs how residents’ health information is used and made available. While it was originally intended to monitor patient and resident information in hospitals and nursing homes, the practices have extended to personal care homes and assisted living communities.

As part of HIPAA, certain resident information is classified as Protected Health Information (PHI):

  • Name
  • Age
  • Address, telephone, email
  • Information on medical condition or medication
  • Names of healthcare providers
  • Reasons why residents need care or assistance
  • Caregiver’s notes

Sharing Confidential Information

When you’re tempted to share information about a resident you need to focus on one key phrase, “need to know.” Only pass on private details concerning your residents to other co-workers if they have a “need to know” in order to perform their job. 

  • Health information should only be shared with co-workers who need to know to perform their jobs.
  • Financial information should only be discussed with appropriate staff members if you believe a resident’s finances are being mismanaged by the resident or his/her family.
  • Information shared with you by a resident in confidence should only be shared with a supervisor if the resident has indicated he/she poses a danger to him/herself or to others.
  • Gossip should only be shared with supervisors if it reveals a conflict between residents or between a resident and a co-worker.

If you’d like to refresh your team on the right to privacy that all residents should expect, look into SeniorLivingU’s HIPAA Caregiver’s Guide or our Caregiver Corner Materials.