Sant'Egidio founder denounces 'massacre' of elderly in nursing homes - 'Institutionalisation cannot be the norm'

Sant’Egidio founder denounces “massacre” of elderly in nursing homes: “Institutionalisation cannot be the norm”

(Source: Andrea Riccardi, Sant’Egidio)

These weeks marked by the coronavirus are an extraordinary experience for our generation. Will we learn something for tomorrow?

There is a risk of continuing as before. In doing so, our societies will face serious dangers, because they have proved to be fragile in many ways, without foresight, based on the priority of economic interest.

We need to rebuild a society with a human dimension. We cannot passively go back to life as before. There is a need for change.

I would like to raise one issue.

I was struck by the massacre of elderly people in nursing homes during the pandemic. Our newspaper, last week, referred to it as the “great silent slaughter”.

There was an intricacy of mistakes and irresponsibility. The courts are investigating, with particular attention to institutions for the elderly, which are sometimes irregular, where dramatic events have taken place.

The reality is that the elderly in nursing homes die more than those at home. According to a research group at the London School of Economics, this is a European phenomenon.

In Italy, coronavirus deaths in old people’s homes account for 53% of total deaths; in Spain, 57%. In the pandemic crisis, the elderly in nursing homes paid a very serious toll.

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This reveals, with great evidence, the inadequacy of nursing homes themselves: it is a health issue, but also a human one. Do we want to continue to deny this evidence?

These painful events teach us that institutionalization cannot be the norm for people who are no longer self-sufficient, but only an exception.

It also teaches us the sad life of institutionalized older people, who are removed from the human context in which they lived for life.

Even where RSA (Sanitary residences for elderly) standards are good, this is not the right final place for the life of a man or a woman. It is necessary to help the elderly to stay at home, creating a network of solidarity around them. Here is the problem of the difficulties of many families, who find themselves alone and without help in managing their loved ones at home.

Our society is not “friendly” towards the elderly at home or families with one or more elderly people: it does not have them present, does not support or accompany them.

In Italy, home care, which is much less expensive than hospitalization, must be strengthened, and then there is the figure of the “caregiver”; usually a woman who helps the elderly or person in difficulty to manage everyday life.

It is in this spirit – helping the elderly at home and their family – that I proposed the regularization of home-care aids, domestic helpers and baby-sitters who live irregularly in Italy.

It is necessary to help the elderly to live in their own environment. Faced with the first difficulties, a nursing home is immediately suggested. And individuals sometimes do not know how to defend their right to stay at home, they do not want to be a burden, they do not feel supported.

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From the coronavirus crisis I emerge even more strengthened in that conviction of what Fr. Oreste Benzi, founder of the Pope John XXIII Community, expressed with striking clarity: “God created the family, men created institutions.”

More on Novena on the Church’s concern for the elderly:

Vatican cardinal denounces COVID-19 exposing “vulnerability and fragility” of elderly in nursing homes

COVID-19: Italian Church group founder calls for regularisation of 300,000 ‘illegal’ migrants in domestic services sector

Church group denounces “silent tragedy” in nursing homes during COVID-19

15/4: In Santa Marta Mass, Pope prays for elderly afraid of coronavirus: “They are our roots, our story, our history”

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Cameron Doody

Director and editor at Novena
PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. Lecturer in ethics at Loyola University Maryland, Alcalá de Henares (Spain) campus. Religion journalist with 4 years experience.
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