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France to investigate elderly care homes after coronavirus deaths

A resident of the Korian Vill'Alize EHPAD (Housing Establishment for Dependant Elderly People) in Thises, eastern France, sits in her wheelchair on April 16, 2020 during the 31st day of a strict confinement in France aimed at curbing the COVID-19 disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
A resident of the Korian Vill'Alize EHPAD (Housing Establishment for Dependant Elderly People) in Thises, eastern France, sits in her wheelchair on April 16, 2020 during the 31st day of a strict confinement in France aimed at curbing the COVID-19 disease caused by the novel coronavirus. AFP - SEBASTIEN BOZON

French prosecutors are investigating five care homes for health violations after complaints by families about the treatment of elderly residents during the coronavirus outbreak.

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The probes come after several families filed complaints about the treatment provided to their loved ones during the coronavirus pandemic after four elderly residents died in care, adding to the mounting death toll in France's retirement homes.

On Tuesday, 110 new fatalities were recorded at hospitals and care homes, with the country's death toll now surging beyond 28,000.

The same day, the public prosecutor in Nanterre on the outskirts of Paris opened a preliminary investigation against three care homes in the Ile de France region for offenses including manslaughter, endangering the lives of others and failing to assist a person in danger.

During the period between 25 March and 12 April, an 80-year-old man and three women aged between 89 and 96 lost their lives as a direct and an indirect result of the pandemic.

Hiding danger

The granddaughter of one of the four victims, Olivia Mokiejewski, told French daily Liberation she had tried to get information about her grandmother's health but was met by a "wall of silence."

When Mokiejewski raised concerns about the lack of protective equipment for staff and residents at the Bel Air care home in Paris run by the Korian group, she was told not to worry.

On 25 March she spoke to her grandmother via video conference and found her coughing and complaining of a headache. Mokiejewski said that the care home still minimized the gravity of the situation until she was forced to bring in a doctor herself on 31 March, who concluded that her grandmother was sick with Covid-19. She died days later.

Mokiejewski, who has since founded the 9471 group, corresponding to the number of people who have died in care as of 5 May--nearly two-fifths of the country’s official Covid-19 death toll, filed a complaint for negligence along with three other families.

Justice for families

Given the complexity of the task, the public prosecutor in Nanterre has combined the four complaints into one civil lawsuit.

Korian care home provider has told French media it would not comment on the investigation, but would "keep its response for investigators and the public prosecutor," its lawyer said.

Across France, bereaved families are turning to the courts to determine whether staff negligence and protective equipment shortages may have caused the virus to spread and kill residents.

On Wednesday, two new probes were opened into the handling of the coronavirus response in two more care homes in Paris.

For Mokiejewski, the legal action represents a small victory. "This won't bring back our loved ones but at least we have the impression we're finally being listened to."

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