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Online postings undermine confidentiality of addiction treatment

TNS Regional News • Feb 11, 2014 at 11:07 AM

The skirmish between two women was unfortunate but brief, a possible byproduct of the stress and emotion that sometimes run high in addiction-treatment programs.

Maryhaven staff members worked to help everyone move on. Then they discovered that another client had worked to make sure the incident would live on.

The online posting of video, photos and comments raises the stakes on privacy concerns for programs that have long demanded that what is said in group stays in group.

“The vast majority of time it does,” said Paul Coleman, Maryhaven’s president and CEO. “This one didn’t. We had a clinical intervention, and the patient took down the photo” from a social-media site.

Maryhaven and other agencies that serve people dealing with addictions, domestic violence, homelessness and other problems have policies and discussions about cellphone use and social media. Devices are often banned during detox or crisis treatment but permitted in instances such as shelter stays or residential programs.

Amethyst, an agency that provides long-term addiction and trauma care for homeless women, recently put a message on its Facebook page asking that no one post the full names of current or former clients.

“We have had people post things and have had to take them down,” spokeswoman Nanon Morrison said. “It’s so common for people to just do that with Facebook or social media. They don’t see the importance of what they’ve posted — that it could be putting someone in danger.”

Sue Villilo, the executive director of Faith Mission, said employees at the homeless shelters stress the importance of privacy. Recordings and photos taken by clients don’t regularly pop up online, but they sometimes do, she said.

“It’s unfortunately sort of an inherent risk of living in a congregate setting,” Villilo said. “ I don’t believe we’ve had to make anyone leave. We’ve certainly gotten close with someone who did it more than once.”

At the YWCA Family Center, which shelters homeless families with children, staff members say they haven’t had a problem with confidentiality breaches among clients. Spokeswoman Patti O’Toole said it’s more often the volunteers who must be reminded.

“They want to take their pictures with the people we help,” she said. “We just say, politely, ‘ You can’t do that. Privacy is part of families’ dignity.’?”

Coleman said Maryhaven’s policy on the use of cellphones and social media is simple: People are there to heal, and anything that interferes with recovery or privacy won’t be tolerated.

A posted response to Amethyst’s Facebook warning about revealing client identities strongly agreed.

“Amen,” it said.


By Rita Price - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)

©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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