Investigation launched into Spanish care home after coronavirus deaths 

The numbers in Spain are escalating, with 6,584 new cases reported on Tuesday

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Madrid nursing home investigated for at least 17 deaths during coronavirus outbreak
Madrid nursing home investigated for at least 17 deaths during coronavirus outbreak Credit: FERNANDO VILLAR/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock 

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

Ms Calvo will be cremated about 200 kilometres away from her family in Madrid because funeral directors in the Spanish capital said they are so overrun there is 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 on Tuesday after a cabinet minister said that the bodies of pensioners had been left in their beds and others had been abandoned to their fate.

Spain on Tuesday saw a record daily rise of 6,584 new coronavirus infections, bringing the total to 39,673.

The number of deaths also jumped by a record number of 514 to 2,696. Margarita Robles, the Spanish defence minister, told a Spanish television programme that when troops were deployed to fumigate residential homes they found elderly people were “completely left to fend for themselves, or even dead, in their beds”.

Spain's state prosecutor has launched an investigation to ascertain if 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. José Manuel Ramírez, president of the Association of the Social Services Directors and Managers, labelled Ms Robles' comments “shameful”.

“Workers are putting themselves on the line, without resources, without healthcare support or protective gear.” He said the people who worked in rest homes should not be seen as “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 on Tuesday announced the closer inspection of all residential homes to ensure they follow government guidelines.

If the death is caused by coronavirus, government protocols prohibit workers touching the body until funeral workers can arrive.

However, the current overwhelming demand on funeral services means that in some cases bodies are left for up to 24 hours.

At a home in Madrid, soldiers arrived on Sunday to disinfect the premises to find the body of a man who had died the day before.

“He was there from early afternoon on Saturday until Sunday morning,” José Manuel Martín-Lopi, a receptionist, told El País newspaper.

Salvado Illa, the Spanish health minister, 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 rest homes are trying to cover up the real situation from residents' relatives.

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

Relatives of those who died have presented a complaint to the patients' ombudsman, claiming they were kept in the dark about the spread of the virus.

“We were told we could no longer go and see my mother on 8th March, to stop the spread of the virus. Then suddenly 70 were infected and 20 died last week. Then on Sunday morning I was told mother had died,” she told the Daily Telegraph.

“I am sad and furious about the lack of information about what happened to my mother.”

Prosecutors in Madrid have opened an investigation into the Monte Hermoso home. 

The Monte Hermoso residential home did not respond to a request for comment. 

Ten days after 20 people died at the home, its management wrote to their relatives to express its sorrow at their loss.  

The letter, which has been seen by the Telegraph, said: "Unfortunately owing to the exceptional restrictions, you were unable to spend the last moments with your beloved." 

Juani Peñafiel says that 22 residents at the private centre where she works as an auxiliary 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 told the Daily Telegraph.  

"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.

“Many of those who have died in my in my centre did not make it to hospital. It is hard to know how ill someone with terminal Alzheimer's is; you can tell they have a temperature but not much else.”

Ms Peñafiel says staff at residences are completely lacking in protective gear, leading them to becoming infected and having to self-isolate.

“We don't have face masks and we come to work every day, risking our lives. Some of our colleagues are in intensive care with the coronavirus,” she added. “The amount of respect we have for old people shows what kind of society we are.”