Spanish nursing homes struggle with depleted staff, “exhausted” professionals and fear of collapse

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NURSING homes face the second wave of the pandemic in Spain under great pressure. After the  “abandonment” suffered in March by the authorities and more than 20,000 deaths, they are now facing outbreaks with depleted resources, “exhausted” professionals and fear of a new health collapse.

Although they say they are more prepared than at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the sector lacks clear coordination at the state level and calls for greater public investment to guarantee the safe care that the elderly deserve.

One of the most worrying situations is that of the staff, whose numbers are “totally insufficient” according to the Commissions of Workers (CCOO). Instead of having given a reinforcement in the workforce, which were already surpassed by the outbreaks of last spring, the union offers alarming data.

That is an exodus of doctors and nurses from nursing homes to Public Health of between 15 per cent and 30 per cent. There was also an alarming drop in geriatric assistants of around 20 per cent when the Spanish Society of Geriatrics and Gerontology (SEGG) indicated the actual need for an increase in the ratio between of between 20 per cent and 25 per cent to cope with Covid.

In addition, absenteeism among nursing home workers is around 20 per cent motivated by “sick leave due to depression, anxiety and physical problems due to overload”, not counting in this data the sick leave due to coronavirus infections, which vary from day to day. The union has in turn calculated that 5 per cent of these professionals have taken early retirements.

“The people who stay active are exhausted. Many have had their vacations suspended and others have been sent back due to outbreaks ”, explains the head of the CC.OO. Dependency, María Victoria Gómez.

She adds that the “stampede” of health professionals towards Public Health is due to the fact that it “offers better conditions with a better salary”  sometimes tripling what doctors and nurses in nursing homes receive for “very hard work”.

But apart from losing health professionals, the president of the Círculo Empresarial de Attention to People (CEAPs), Cinta Pascual, points out that  “the main fear” of the residential sector is “that there will be another health collapse” like the one experienced in spring. Pascual, who denounced in Congress that the centres had received orders in March not to transfer the elderly to hospitals, emphasises that residents have the right to Public Health: “Everyone must be clear that they have to us give health care.”

Pascual points out that, despite this loss of staff, there is a negotiation with the Government in this regard and that the hope is to “cover” all losses. She also adds that the centres are now more “prepared” and that the balance is “much more positive than in March.”

Agreements have been reached with some autonomous communities such as Catalonia and Navarra to guarantee the monthly and mass “screening by PCR” to the professionals of the residences.

The president of the Association of Directors and Managers in Social Services, José Manuel Ramírez also calls for an “injection” of public money to guarantee security in residences throughout the country, since the model works differently according to the regions and there are regional governments that provide, he says, more help than others, or in a different way.

In May, the Government excluded social services from the fund of 16,000 million euros so that the autonomous communities could face the effects of the pandemic, so investment in residences will depend directly on the funds received by the health departments.

Ramírez demands “urgent measures not to permanently abandon” the nearly 400,000 dependents who are on the waiting list to receive aid, of which 100,000 are still waiting to obtain a place in a residence. This shows that the replacement rates are not being maintained since some 15,380 places that have been free since January remain unfilled. “By not covering them with new residents,” they cost the communities less, which is an absolutely shameful situation.”

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Damon Mitchell

From the interviewed to the interviewer

As frontman of a rock band Damon used to court the British press, now he lives the quiet life in Spain and seeks to get to the heart of the community, scoring exclusive interviews with ex-pats about their successes and struggles during their new life in the sun.

Originally from Scotland but based on the coast for the last three years, Damon strives to bring the most heartfelt news stories from the spanish costas to the Euro Weekly News.

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