Coronavirus crisis in Madrid’s senior homes: “If he gets infected, no one will do anything to help him”

EL PAÍS has received numerous emails and phone calls about the critical situation facing the elderly in residences, from the shortage of staff to ambulances refusing to transfer patients

The Monte Hermoso senior home, where 17 residents have died from coronavirus.
The Monte Hermoso senior home, where 17 residents have died from coronavirus.FERNANDO VILLAR (EL PAÍS)

Senior homes in the Madrid region have been devastated by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. The extent of the crisis has been difficult to measure. Amid the confusion, EL PAÍS has been trying to shed light on the critical situation. Madrid authorities opened an investigation on Thursday to find out how many residents of the region’s 425 senior homes have contracted the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and how many have died.

The Monte Hermoso senior center.
The Monte Hermoso senior center.David Exposito

According to the estimates of this newspaper, at least 70 residents in Madrid have died from confirmed or suspected cases of the disease. Many centers hit by outbreaks of the coronavirus do not have test kits, meaning that deaths are recorded as suspected cases. The deaths have occurred in the following senior homes: Monte Hermoso, Fundación Santísima Virgen y San Celedonio, Albertia Moratalaz, four centers run by the Amavir group, three run by the group Mensajeros de la Paz, Nuestra Señora del Rosario (Torrejón), Soto Fresnos (Soto del Real), Sagrada Familia and La Paz Residence.

According to the multiple emails and phone calls from workers and families received by EL PAÍS, dozens of centers have seen confirmed or suspected cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Authorities have been debating whether it is better to evacuate the centers or turn them into hospitals. The outlook for residents is bleak. These are some of the main complaints about the crisis.

Ambulances don’t come to senior homes: “Emergency services told me they couldn’t help us”

Many seniors have fallen ill in care homes without ambulances taking them to hospitals. Some family members have said that their parents or grandparents are being left to die because they are considered lost causes, as they have prior medical conditions or are of an advanced age. One worker said they had been looking for someone to help a 91-year-old man who was struggling to breathe since early Thursday morning. Last Friday, a doctor visited him and said he was a “possible Covid-19” case but did not have a kit to confirm the diagnosis.

“I see this man crying and he should be cared for in a hospital,” said the worker, who asked to remain anonymous to protect their job. “We have called 112 [for emergency services] seven times and nothing. After waiting two hours, they told me in an unfriendly tone that they couldn’t help us.”

Some of the senior centers have told families that they can do nothing for their loved ones. “There are very few options for a hospital transfer,” a doctor wrote to the family of a resident at the Albertia Moratalaz senior home, according to an email seen by EL PAÍS. At this center, nine residents have died from suspected and confirmed cases of Covid-19.

Shortage of care workers: “We need help. We are overwhelmed”

Many care workers have stopped showing up for work at senior centers to avoid being infected with the coronavirus. This has led to a downward spiral in the organization of residences, contributing to the increase in infections and deaths.

Antonio Naranjo Fabián, the manager of the Santísima Virgen and San Celedonio Foundation, a senior home located near the Santiago Bernabéu stadium in Tetuán neighborhood, has himself tested positive for coronavirus, like other workers at the residence. He told EL PAÍS that at least 11 people have died at the center: seven from confirmed cases of coronavirus, and four in suspected cases that were never diagnosed.

“We need help. We are overwhelmed. We are doing all that we can,”said Naranjo Fabián by phone.

“I don’t want to bring the virus home,” a worker at the Francisco de Vitoria senior home in Alcalá de Henares, told EL PAÍS, explaining that she lives with her 70-year-old parents.

Staff wearing kitchen gloves

Up until Thursday, many care workers continued to work without gloves or face masks. The CSIT worker union announced that it was going to file a complaint with Work Inspection against the directors of senior homes who were not providing staff with the protective gear needed to avoid contagion.

Some workers said that they had been using kitchen gloves in the senior homes, while others said they have been sharing the protective gear between them.

Scared families

Many families have written or phoned to complain about the lack of transparency from senior homes. In some cases, they have been informed of a coronavirus outbreak days after it began. Under the rules to slow the spread of the coronavirus, families are not allowed to visit their loved ones in senior homes, meaning that it is difficult for them to know the real situation.

“I prefer to take care of my mother myself, to be with her to the last minute,” said Miguel Ángel López, whose mother is in a public senior home where various residents have been infected with the coronavirus. “I refuse to believe that I have put my mother in the worst place possible and that I won’t see her again.”

It is a concern shared by many. “Today [Thursday] is Fathers’ Day and I can assure you it’s been a hard day. I fear for his life. And the worst part of all is that if he gets infected, no one will do anything to help him,” Laura Gómez, the daughter of a resident in a senior home where there are four coronavirus cases, wrote in an email.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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