CORONAVIRUS

At least 19 dead at Madrid senior home due to a coronavirus outbreak

More people are probably going to die, says a healthcare source familiar with the situation at the center

An ambulance taking people out of the Monte Hermoso senior residence in Madrid.
An ambulance taking people out of the Monte Hermoso senior residence in Madrid.David Exposito

At least 19 residents of a senior home in Madrid have died from an outbreak of the new coronavirus, center managers confirmed on Tuesday.

The deaths at the Monte Hermoso care home were first reported by the news agency Europa Press, citing relatives who spoke with workers there. “It’s likely that more people are going to die,” a healthcare source familiar with the situation told EL PAÍS.

Until Tuesday of this week, ill residents were not being taken to hospital, and were dying inside the senior living center. Late on Tuesday, over 12 hours after the story broke, it was still impossible to ascertain the exact number of victims at the facility, which has room for 130 residents.

At noon on Tuesday, a center spokesperson admitted that the figure was at least 19. Later, Madrid regional officials lowered it to 17 deaths since Friday of last week. Workers and relatives disagreed with this figure, and said there were suspicious deaths much earlier than that. But confirming the cause of death has been difficult as the victims were never tested for coronavirus. Some of the deaths have been classified as “possible Covid-19.”

A total of 75 people, including staff and residents of Monte Hermoso, have tested positive for coronavirus, said Enrique Ruiz Escudero, head of the Madrid regional health department, in an interview on the radio station SER. “We need information from residences in order to act.” His statement seemed to suggest that managers at Monte Hermoso had not reported the cases to the authorities.

News of the outbreak at Monte Hermoso confirmed fears about the heightened risk posed by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus for the more than 400 senior homes operating in the Madrid region. Two weeks ago, another outbreak was reported at the public senior residence La Paz, where a 99-year-old woman died and at least 10 other residents were infected.

The Madrid region is the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis in Spain. On Tuesday morning, officials announced 706 new cases in the last 24 hours, for a total of 4,871 since the beginning of the epidemic. According to Health Ministry figures, 43% of positive cases and 72% of coronavirus deaths in Spain have occurred in Madrid.

Criteria

On Saturday morning, a center worker requested an ambulance for Ana Ruiz’s mother, 86-year-old Ana María Artola, after the latter developed a fever of 39ºC. The staff suspected she had Covid-19, but the hospital refused to help “because she did not meet the criteria,” a center worker and the victim’s doctor both told Ana Ruiz. Ana María Artola died at noon on Monday, and Ruiz says nobody has been able to explain which criteria her mother did not meet.

Located near the Casa de Campo, in the west of the capital, Monte Hermoso is a privately run senior residence that also works as a daycare center. On March 8, relatives were prohibited from accessing the center to prevent contagion. Until then, visitors had been walking in without any protective gear.

The deaths started speeding up in the last 48 hours, said sources familiar with the situation. Some staff members who spoke on condition of anonymity said the first suspicious death took place two weeks ago. On Sunday there were 10 bodies in the basement awaiting collection by the funeral home, according to several eye witnesses.

A Monte Hermoso spokesperson said that employees were doing everything possible to save lives. On Tuesday, the center received oxygen equipment from regional health authorities, ill residents were transferred to hospitals, and workers from the San Carlos Clinical Hospital were sent in to help the staff.

Yolanda Cumia was informed of her father’s death through a telephone call placed before dawn on Tuesday. “Yolanda, your father has died of a respiratory insufficiency,” she was told by a staff member at 2.30am. Juan Cumia was 87 years old, and one of the healthiest residents at the center. Every Tuesday he would go out with friends to eat at Gaztelu, a Basque restaurant on the east side of Madrid. His daughter was in shock at news of his sudden death.

Yolanda Cumia said the worker confessed that the situation at the center was dramatic and that a lot of seniors were dying, while apparently nothing was being done about it. “They’re dropping like flies,” said Cumia.

Some of the workers talked about the “chaos” of the last few days. On Tuesday, with ambulances constantly coming and going, a nurse walked out with a slip of paper confirming that she had just quit her job. “It’s awful in there,” she said. “I’m not going back.” Another worker who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the situation inside is dramatic. “We need everyone’s efforts, and help from God.”

English version by Susana Urra.