Amnesty reports on how Madrid and Catalonia let old people die in care homes

The NGO describes up to five human rights violations in the management of the pandemic in these services

Amnesty International (AI) describes the situation in old people's homes during the coronavirus crisis as hell. Residents who have been denied medical care because they were not transferred to a hospital facility, or who have had to spend weeks alone, without any contact with their families, while outside there were families desperate for some information about their condition. Up to five rights violations have been detected by AI in the management of the pandemic during the first wave: "The right to health, to life, to non-discrimination of the elderly, to a dignified death and the right to private and family life have been violated," says Esteban Beltrán, the organisation's director in Spain.

In a report graphically entitled Abandoned to their fate: The lack of protection and discrimination against older people in residential homes during the COVID-19 pandemic in Spain, Amnesty  International denounces the late and slow reaction of the health authorities in responding to the particular vulnerability of residences. They say that it took weeks for the professionals to have the necessary protective equipment, which led to a large number of casualties among the staff, and also that the coronavirus spread rapidly and affected the elderly. "Despite improvements in certain areas during these months, some of these concerns remain," they warn. And they point out that it was "the effort and dedication" of the staff that in many cases managed to infuse a dose of humanism into a situation of dehumanisation.

The report includes complaints about the lack of medical care for users of care homes, who are victims of hospital overcrowding. The management of a care home in Madrid apologised to the grieving daughter of on their late residentes. The home explained they had orders from the Madrid region not to refer him to any hospital centre and the care was limited to providing "oxygen and palliative [care]". His eventual death is "the hardest thing" his daughter has ever had to live through.

No visitors

His case is repeated in most of the more than 23,000 people who have died in care homes from coronavirus. "They were not properly cared for, nor were they referred to hospitals when they needed to be; they were isolated in their rooms, sometimes for weeks, with no contact with their families, and in some cases they were not even able to die with dignity," explains the NGO, which regrets that family visits are still not guaranteed and that the transfer of elderly people to hospitals is avoided.

For Amnesty, the measures adopted by the Catalan and Madrid governments "were implemented in an inconsistent manner" and did not provide adequate access to health services for older people living in care homes. Thus, AI criticised that the contingency plans were designed to be applied "in an automated way and in block", without taking into account individualised assessments, which made access to adequate treatment for patients with covid or other pathologies difficult. The family of Pedro Rodríguez, 89 years old, managed to have him transferred to the Hospital Clínic, first, and then to the Sagrat Cor in Barcelona, despite the fact that a doctor had insisted that "by protocol" there was no need to refer him. Once admitted, he was diagnosed with  bilateral pneumonia,  renal failure and acute dehydration. And even though the man survived, he is suffering the consequences "not only of the coronavirus, but of isolation in the care home," the report explains.

In the face of the second wave of the pandemic, Amnesty calls on the authorities to take urgent steps to ensure that any decision to combat the pandemic respects human rights and that medical decisions are made on the basis of individualised assessments. It also calls for regular contact between residents and their families and urges the Spanish government to push for a state law to establish a residential model that guarantees the rights of residents across the state.