CORONAVIRUS

15% of residents in Madrid care homes died during the coronavirus pandemic

The figure represents the total number of fatalities between March 8 and May 15, and includes victims who were not tested for Covid-19 as well as those who may have died from other causes

Two workers assist a resident of the Monte Hermoso senior home in Madrid in March.
Two workers assist a resident of the Monte Hermoso senior home in Madrid in March.FERNANDO VILLAR / EFE

Social service residences have been the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in Spain, and in Madrid, the situation has been particularly devastating. A total of 15.31% of all residents of care homes in the Madrid region died between March 8 and May 15, representing 7,690 people, according to figures provided by regional authorities to which EL PAÍS has had access.

This figure represents the total number of fatalities at homes for the elderly, disabled and mentally ill, and it includes victims who were not tested for Covid-19 as well as those who may have died from other causes. The percentage has been calculated by EL PAÍS based on data from the regional government on the number of care home residents and the total number of deaths at these centers.

The situation in Madrid’s care homes has been the focus of a bitter political feud

Without taking into account variables such as those who may have died in hospital or at home, a total of 15.31% of Madrid care home residents lost their lives during the coronavirus crisis. Of the total number of fatalities, only 1,203 were tested for the coronavirus. Many seniors died with symptoms associated with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but did not receive a formal diagnosis. By comparison, Galicia had 759 deaths among 23,862 residents (3.08%), and Asturias reported 864 deaths out of 13,632 residents (5.96%).

Despite the desperate plight in the care homes, the Madrid regional government only intervened in 14 centers. This is in stark contrast to Asturias, where regional authorities stepped in to take charge of 112 care homes.

Situation in Spain

The total number of deaths in social service residences across Spain is still not known. The central government published an order in April forcing regional authorities to provide these figures, but only nine of Spain’s 17 regions have done so: Madrid, Catalonia, Valencia, Asturias, Andalusia, Murcia, Navarre, Galicia and the Balearic Islands.

In these regions, a total of 19,243 residents died during the coronavirus pandemic from all causes. But of this number, only 5,346 were tested for Covid-19. According to the most recent tally from EL PAÍS, based on information from the 17 regions, more than 19,000 people have died from coronavirus or with associated symptoms at residences run by Spain’s social services. Less than half of these victims were tested for the virus.

It is difficult to compare the figures from the regions, as each region has a different way of reporting the fatalities

Many industry associations and unions argue that in some regions there were not enough tests for workers and care home residents. Indeed the figures show great differences between the number of deaths in social service residences and the number of tests carried out. In Catalonia, for example, there were 4,702 deaths between March 8 and May 15, of which 2,387 were confirmed coronavirus cases. While in Andalusia, of the total 2,150 fatalities recorded, only 524 were confirmed to be Covid-19 victims.

But it is difficult to compare the figures from the regions, as each region has a different way of reporting the fatalities. In Madrid, only deaths that occurred in the social service residence are counted, while in Galicia, residents who died in hospital are also included in the official count.

Political dispute

The situation in Madrid’s care homes has been the focus of a bitter political feud within the regional government, which is run by a coalition between the Popular Party (PP) and Ciudadanos (Citizens), and between Madrid and central authorities.

In emails seen by EL PAÍS, Alberto Reyero, the regional chief for social policy, warned that internal protocols, which recommended against transferring certain coronavirus patients, could lead to “many residents dying in undignified conditions.” This message was sent by the Ciudadanos politician to the the regional health chief, Enrique Ruiz Escudero of the PP, but did not receive a reply.

Madrid regional premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso, of the PP, has said that one of those controversial protocols was a draft sent by mistake, and she blamed Spain’s deputy prime minister Pablo Iglesias, of the leftist Podemos party, for the situation at the care homes. Iglesias, for his part, has accused the regional government of “a possible crime.”

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Sunday noted that care home management falls to regional authorities, and recalled that the central government sent in the army to disinfect these premises on 5,200 occasions between March 18 and May 17. “The government has not looked the other way during this crisis, and not just because of the orders we have approved, but because we have sent in the army,” he said. “It seems impossible to me to show greater commitment to the safety of our elders than that shown by this government.”

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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