“Institutions make an effort to turn the page and we forget about everything. But I am going to be in this fight until the end of my life”, assures Ángela Arreba. Before the pandemic, she and her brothers visited her mother every day in a residence in the Community of Madrid. She died without news of her children or opportunity to say goodbye to her in March 2020. “I don’t want to imagine what she would think and how they would explain to her, if they had time to explain to her, why we weren’t there,” says Arreba. Her mother was one of the 35,000 elderly people who died in Spanish residences during the pandemic. The human rights organization Amnesty International has denounced this Wednesday the lack of investigation by Spanish prosecutors and justice for the relatives of the victims, who are still waiting almost three years after the first wave of the pandemic.
Without investigation there is no relief, and many families feel that they cannot move on. “The deaths of all these elderly people have received neither truth, nor justice, nor reparation, nor information from State institutions. They have remained in impunity”, explains Esteban Beltrán, the director of Amnesty in Spain. “Families are absolutely disappointed with the non-intervention of the Prosecutor’s Office — and of justice in general — in most cases. We have felt absolutely abandoned, not enough research has been done”, continues Paulino Campos, co-founder of the State Platform of Organizations of Family Members and Users of Residences. Amnesty records five human rights violations committed against the elderly in residences: violation of the right to life, health, non-discrimination, private and family life, and the right to a dignified death.
In October 2022, the State Attorney General’s Office sent a letter urging superior prosecutors to listen to the affected relatives and adopt the investigative measures that were necessary to clarify the responsibility of residences and governments. However, four months later, the family associations insist that none of this has happened, and Amnesty International denounces the opacity of the Prosecutor’s Office. “There are no publicly accessible data on the total criminal proceedings in which he has intervened, it is not known what the Prosecutor’s Office has consisted of, it is not known how many families have been asked about their experience,” explains Beltrán.
The available data is, according to Amnesty, “partial” and corresponds only to the annual reports of some provincial prosecutors, such as Madrid, where 86% of the cases have been archived. “Despite the fact that we have sent letters to the Prosecutor’s Office several times, they have never provided us with figures with the current information,” Beltrán protests. At the end of January 2022, the organization calculated that almost 90% of the investigations opened to nursing homes, 451 out of 517, had been archived. The affected families have also sent letters. The platform In June and August of last year, the Estatal de Organizaciones de Familiares y Usuarias de Residencias and Marea Residencias sent two letters to the State Attorneys General to demand an in-depth investigation into the actions of the residences during the first wave of the pandemic. They have not yet received a response. The prosecution proposed this Tuesday to the organizations a meeting in early February.
It is difficult for Arreba to get the guilt off his chest. “The pain will always be with us, but if we knew something more, if the prosecution did a thorough analysis, we would have some relief,” she says. During the confinement, it was impossible for him to contact her mother, because the residence where she lived was in a “chaotic” situation, and the staff did not even have time to hand her the phone. Even so, they assured him that his mother was fine. “I went down a couple of times to wait at the door, to see if someone would come out who could tell me things, who could ask them to look out the window so they could see us,” she recalls. But it could not be. Three days before her mother’s death, the residence doctor admitted to her that if he had transferred her to the hospital sooner when her health began to deteriorate, she could have saved her life, but that, at that moment, she no longer deserved the pain.
“Someone chose himself as God”
Campos emphasizes the need to clarify the relationship between the high number of deaths and the protocols that were published both in the Community of Madrid and in Catalonia or in Castilla y León, by which the elderly were excluded from hospital care ” due to the fact of living in a residence, or due to the fact of having certain disabilities or severe pathologies, which affect more than 80% of the people who live in nursing homes”. The protocol of the Ministry of Health of the Community of Madrid rejected the entry of the bulk of the population of 50,000 older people who lived in residences to avoid hospital collapse. Three out of four deaths in the spring of 2020 did so in the bed of their residence, according to an analysis published by EL PAÍS. “Someone chose himself as God, and decided who could live and who couldn’t,” says Arreba.
One of the dangers of the lack of transparency and public recognition, as warned by Amnesty and the associations, is that, if there were another confinement or a similar situation for other reasons, the situation that was experienced in the nursing homes would repeat itself again. . Beltrán wonders: “How can you create a new model of residences if you have not studied before what has failed?” The director of Amnesty Spain stresses the need to agree on “minimum materials, relations with the family environment, dignity in treatment and support” for family members.
The lawsuit filed by Arreba and his brothers has spent more than two years in a drawer. On March 15 they are summoned, together with other families, to give a statement before the judge. “We only want to know with certainty how many staff were in the residence, what treatment my mother received, what means they had and whose responsibility it was”, he continues. Campos asks the authorities for a thorough investigation for families that, like Arreba’s, need rest. “We cannot return to populate our contemporary history with more corpses in the gutters or in the closets.” And Arreba asks again: “If things were done correctly and under the protection of the law, why is there so much fear of appearing?”