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Anger and shock in Spain at claims elderly left dead or dying in abandoned nursing homes


Defence Minister Margarita Robles says soldiers found bodies in care homes. Photo: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

Defence Minister Margarita Robles says soldiers found bodies in care homes. Photo: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

Getty Images

Defence Minister Margarita Robles says soldiers found bodies in care homes. Photo: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

The body of Carmen Calvo Fresco lay for hours in the room she shared in a residential home until overworked funeral staff finally arrived to take her remains away.

Ms Calvo will be cremated about 200km away from her family in Madrid because funeral directors in the Spanish capital said they were so overrun there was nowhere closer to deal with victims of coronavirus.

When she died on Sunday, the 86-year-old became another grim statistic of the mounting death toll in Spain's residential care homes, where dozens have perished from the illness.

The care of the most vulnerable in Spanish society was at the centre of a political row yesterday after a cabinet minister claimed that the bodies of pensioners had been left in their beds and others had been abandoned to their fate.

Health authorities said yesterday that Spain experienced a record daily rise of 6,584 new infections, bringing the total to 39,673. Deaths also jumped by a record 514, to 2,696.

Spanish Defence Minister Margarita Robles said on television that when troops were deployed to fumigate residential homes they found elderly people "completely left to fend for themselves, or even dead, in their beds".

Spain's state prosecutor is investigating to ascertain whether there was any suggestion of criminal negligence.

However, the claims prompted an angry rebuke from workers at old people's homes who said they were forced to work in dangerous conditions without proper protective equipment.

They claimed undertakers were arriving late to collect bodies.

Jose Manuel Ramirez, president of the Association of the Social Services Directors and Managers, called Ms Robles's comments "shameful".

"Workers are putting themselves on the line, without resources, without healthcare support or protective gear," he said, adding that people who worked in care homes were not "criminals" but "heroes".

Aware of the political sensitivity of the issue in a country where the elderly are highly respected, Spain's left-wing coalition government yesterday announced the closer inspection of all residential homes to ensure they follow government guidelines.

If the death is caused by coronavirus, government protocols prohibit staff from touching the body until funeral workers arrive. However, the current overwhelming demand means that in some cases bodies are left for up to 24 hours.

At a home in Madrid, soldiers arriving on Sunday to disinfect the premises found a man who had died the day before.

"He was there from early afternoon on Saturday until Sunday morning," Jose Manuel Martin-Lopi, a receptionist, told 'El Pais' newspaper.

Health Minister Salvado Illa said if old people's homes did not follow guidelines, the government would intervene.

However, Rosana Castillo (61), one of Ms Calvo's five children, believes managers at Spain's care homes are trying to cover up the real situation.

Her mother paid €500 per month to stay in a shared room at the Monte Hermoso home in Madrid, where 20 residents died last week and at least 70 others tested positive.

"We were told we could no longer go and see my mother on March 8, to stop the spread of the virus. Then suddenly 70 were infected and 20 died last week. Then on Sunday morning I was told my mother had died," she said. "I am sad and furious about the lack of information about what happened to my mother."

Prosecutors in Madrid are investigating Monte Hermoso, which did not respond to a request for comment.

Ten days after the deaths, the home's management wrote to relatives to express sorrow at their loss. The letter said: "Unfortunately, owing to the exceptional restrictions, you were unable to spend the last moments with your beloved."

Juani Penafiel says 22 residents at the private centre where she works as a nurse in Madrid - but does not wish to name - have died in the past two weeks due to coronavirus.

"It's so terrible to see; we have a strong bond with the residents, who are so grateful for all the attention we give them," she said.

"They know that something is happening. They realise they are ill and they grab your hand for a little extra conversation, but we have to keep working because next door there is someone who hasn't eaten or there are nappies to change." (© Daily Telegraph, London)