Seniors left to die at retirement homes amid coronavirus outbreak, Spain’s defense minister reveals

Rafael Aguilera, mayor of Alcala del Valle, Spain at a news conference on Monday March 23, 2020.
Rafael Aguilera, mayor of Alcala del Valle, Spain at a news conference on Monday March 23, 2020. | Screenshot: Facebook

Several patients at senior homes in Spain have been found dead after being abandoned by staff during the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, the country’s defense minister revealed, and prosecutors are now promising to prosecute those responsible.

The bodies were discovered by soldiers who were sent in to offer emergency healthcare assistance and disinfect the elderly people's homes, Spain’s Ministry of Defense said, according to The Telegraph. An unspecified number of abandoned dead bodies were discovered at the privately-run homes where most of the staff had stopped going after getting infected with the new coronavirus themselves.

“The army, during certain visits, found some older people completely abandoned, sometimes even dead in their beds,” Defense Minister Margarita Robles told the TV channel Telecinco. "We are going to be strict and inflexible when dealing with the way old people are treated in these residences.”

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“We’re going to be very blunt and implacable over this and we have a very clear message: The full weight of the law will fall on those who don’t meet their obligations.”

Dozens of deaths have been reported at retirement homes across Spain, which is the second worst affected country in Europe after Italy. Italy now has the highest number of coronavirus-related deaths in the world, numbered at more than 6,000.

A week ago, at least 19 deaths were confirmed at the Monte Hermoso senior center in Madrid, where some 400 senior living facilities are located.

While authorities in Spain threaten to prosecute the workers who left the sick seniors to die, some complain that they are being forced to work in dangerous conditions, without proper equipment. Funeral homes, they say, have also been coming late to collect bodies senior home staff are unable to touch due to protocols in place to prevent the spread of the disease.

“Workers are putting themselves on the line, without resources, without healthcare support, without protective gear,” José Manuel Ramírez, president of the Association of Social Services Directors and Managers, told El Pais in response to the threat of prosecution he called “unfortunate” and “shameful.” He urged the public not to “criminalize” employees who are acting “like heroes and heroines.”

About 14% of Spain’s approximately 40,000 coronavirus infections are among health workers, Reuters reported.

Officials revealed that the military disinfected 179 nursing homes on Monday and plan to clean another 96 on Tuesday.

Rafael Aguilera, mayor of Alcala del Valle, a small town in Andalusia, pleaded for help after reporting 38 of 42 residents at the local nursing home had tested positive for the virus, along with 60% of staff.

“The virus doesn’t kill people ... what’s killing people is the system,” he said at a news conference.

“Our seniors need a permanent solution now. We need oxygen, ambulances and hospitals,” he said in a video posted on the town’s Facebook page. “A person died in our arms because we couldn’t get hold of oxygen.”

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