If you had to look for a spigot, it would probably be the statements of Margarita Robles on March 20, 2020, just two weeks after the outbreak of the first wave. “We are going to be absolutely implacable and forceful with the treatment that is given to the elderly in the residences,” he said in a morning program with the highest audience, «The Army in some visits has been able to see some elderly people absolutely abandoned, when not dead in their beds». Public opinion turned its eyes to the centers for the elderly. So did the State Attorney General’s Office, which gave instructions to inspect residences throughout the country in detail. The complaints followed one another, with more or less publicity and echo
media, as if the bad practices of the sector were behind the high mortality of this hard landing in the pandemic. They weren’t residences, it was Auschwitz, little less. The health crisis was judicialized. More than a year and a half later, to date, the courts have not been able to specify bad practices in residences that support the elaborated story that the sector gave priority to the business over the care of the elderly.
The sector, silent all this time, limits itself to pointing out the data: Despite the rain of complaints, none have reached trial until today. The Prosecutor’s Office strengthens this vision: of the more than a thousand civil procedural proceedings initiated from March 2020 to September of this year, 738 have been archived, 70% of the total. Another 302 are still pending, without this meaning that they will take the step to become judicial proceedings. In the criminal sphere, of the 517 initiated, only 40 resulted in complaints filed with the judicial authority.
“Lawsuits are being filed in all processes”, says Ignacio Fernández Cid, president of the Business Federation of the Agency, one of the employers’ associations in the sector, “that proceedings were opened it seemed that we were already guilty of something”, but once the centers sent the information requested to the Prosecutor’s Office ” it does not go further “because” there is no cause. ” According to the calculation of the State Association of Services for the Third Age (Aeste), among the complaints from the Public Ministry and those filed by family members and groups, the main residential management groups have faced more than a hundred legal claims. “Practically all of them are on file,” underlines Jesús Cubero, general secretary of this organization. “The Prosecutor’s Office understands that it was acted correctly and has been archiving, we did not believe that it would be otherwise”.
The main victims of this crisis in residences have been the large private business groups that manage the sector. DomusVi, with more than 200 centers throughout Spain, has been notified since March 2020 of eleven legal proceedings, of which six have already been archived. The company assures ABC that to date, “No person responsible has been summoned to declare” of residences or management in the proceedings still open, which are added to the “dozens of pre-trial proceedings” opened and closed by the Prosecutor’s Office.
Amavir, which manages 43 centers for the elderly throughout the country and equally hit by the first wave, only maintains an open procedure in the Public Prosecutor’s Office for a residence in Murcia, while another seven in Madrid have already been archived. Regarding individual complaints, two of the eight filed – all in the Community of Madrid – have already been closed, and the other six are awaiting resolution, but without having reached the trial stage.
Another of the indicated groups, Los Nogales, with a dozen residences in Madrid, saw how of the five open investigations, four died without leaving the Prosecutor’s Office and another was dismissed in court. “The sector fulfilled its duty and respected the rules, protocols and recommendations”According to sources in Los Nogales, “fortunately, time and court decisions are confirming it.”
The different judges and prosecutors agree on their diagnosis once they receive the forensic reports of the users of residences who, supposedly, have died due to the bad practices of the managers and the personnel who attend them. “There is no evidence that it was the performance of the residence, or its staff, which caused the sad outcome”, affirmed the chief prosecutor of the Móstoles area about cases reported in a Humanes residence; “After presenting the first symptoms compatible with Covid-19, the residence was acted in accordance with the protocols,” a judge from Plaza de Castilla ruled on a center in the capital; “There are no elements that allow inferring that specific omitted actions were linked” to the death of patients, ruled the Hearing of Pontevedra before an appeal by the victims of a residence in Cangas.
“The reputational damage has been tremendous, and we still don’t know why”, admits the president of FED. Jesús Cubero does outline a reason: “there was a political interest in getting out of focus, and they tried to derive responsibility and attribute it to a sector such as the people who took care of the elderly.” The secretary general of Aeste reveals that the same Madrid Prosecutor’s Office recognized the work of its staff. “From the beginning they told us that we should be calm and that we should be proud of the work of our people,” he says, “they told me in a telephone conversation.”
Cinta Pascual, president of Ceaps (Círculo Empresarial de Attention to People) assures that the reputational damage suffered by the sector has not been quantified, “but we have done the emotional calculation, because it was very hard. We were in the front line, we did not receive a single applause and we did receive all the criticism in the world. It was a tough and distressing situation for the more than 250,000 professionals “who work in these centers throughout Spain. Today, however, “this has changed, we work more together and citizens are aware that we serve the people most dependent on the system.”
“We were abandoned as a sector”, Pascual denounces, “we were criminalized without knowing what was happening. Throughout Europe there were infections in residences, but here we are primed with them. There is a dull ache in the sector. During the first wave “we were in the front line, we did not receive a single applause but criticism from everyone.” The defense minister’s statements were the coup de grace. “It hurt a lot.” That situation was not derived from the negligence of the residences, but from the “hecatomb” of the funeral homes, which were not enough, in the words of Fernández Cid. “What residence director is going to want to store corpses in their centers?”, he wonders, “not even the most perverse mind can think of it. That saying that the UME found corpses mixed with residents is outrageous.
The main companies in the sector are now facing a direct consequence of the pandemic: rising costs. According to data from Cinta Pascual, of the 365,000 residential places in Spain, about 200,000 are arranged by public administrations. “We are negotiating a 2% increase when actual costs have increased by 15-20%.” “If the health system costs more, the healthcare system is obviously going to cost more”, apostille. However, the managers of the centers “have prioritized recovering the occupation to the transfer of cost.” “We had a vacancy from 15-20, it was not the time to raise prices.”
“We have a poorly financed system”, adds Jesús Cubero. And older people are discussing “certain quality standards for the whole of Spain,” such as the increase in staff-to-user ratios, “and they are going to centers that are perhaps less large than the current ones, which may be between 100 and 150 places ». From Aeste it is defended that “the future of the sector no longer passes through small chalets and residences”, but through “professionalized” centers, a requirement that is being detected in society in a generalized way. “We are recovering, the elderly are coming back.”
The employers also make self-criticism. “We neglected families”, admits the president of the FED“We were totally overwhelmed by a huge number of casualties, with the workforce very decimated, and attention to the elderly was prioritized but neglecting information to the family.” At the moment they are negotiating with the Ministry of Social Rights a kind of basic regulation common to all the Autonomous Communities that ends with one of the systemic deficiencies: the dysfunctionality between territories to face the same reality. And meanwhile, Cinta Pascual warns: «The fear of the sixth wave in the residences is real; there will always be after what has been lived ».
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism