After waves of COVID deaths, nursing homes are legally reckoned

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PARIS (AP) – The muffled, gagging sounds in the background of the phone call filled Monette Hayoun with fear.

Did her severely disabled 85-year-old brother, Meyer, choke on his food? Did he slowly choke like the Holocaust survivor who died a few months earlier in one of the bedrooms of another nursing home, with a piece of breakfast bread down his throat?

Meyer Haiun died the following day, one of more than 14,000 deaths ripped from nursing homes for the most vulnerable older adults in France when they were closed to visitors during the peak of the corona virus.

Three months later, the questions tease Monette: how did her brother die? Did he suffer? And, above all, who is responsible?

“Any questions I have about Meyer, maybe the truth isn’t as bad as what I imagine,” she says. Still, she adds, “You can’t help but imagine the worst.”

As families return en masse to nursing homes that first reopened for limited visits in April and more this month, thousands no longer have mothers, fathers, grandparents, and siblings to cuddle and hold.

With graves so fresh that some still don’t have headstones, grieving families across the country are increasingly demanding a reckoning and turning to lawyers to try to determine why nearly half of the nearly 30,000 COVID-19 deaths in nursing home residents in France, the generations that grew up after the First World War endured the next world conflict and helped rebuild the country.

Many houses had few, not even deaths. But others come up with their reputation in shreds, having lost scores in their care. Homes are increasingly confronted with wrongful death charges that accuse them of negligent care, skimp on protective equipment and personnel, and lie to families about how their loved ones died and the measures they took to prevent infections.

Because COVID-19 proved particularly deadly to older adults, nursing homes around the world were soon at the forefront of the pandemic. In the United States, nursing home residents account for nearly 1 in 10 of all coronavirus cases and more than a quarter of deaths. In Europe, care home residents account for between a third and almost two thirds of the deaths in many countries.

To prevent infections, many homes shut down. In France, on March 11, six days before the nationwide shutdown, the government closed access to the country’s 7,400 medical facilities for the most dependent older adults. But by this time, the coronavirus was already taking its toll.

A thick yellow file of complaints on the desk of Parisian lawyer Fabien Arakelian is a measure of the anger of families determined to get answers. The first complaint he made related to a house that he said lost 40 out of 109 inhabitants; the pile has only grown since then.

Arakelian himself lost his grandfather in a nursing home before the pandemic.

“Unlike these families, I was fortunate to be able to accompany him to the end, give him one last kiss, and one last goodbye. They didn’t understand that and it can never be returned to them, ”he says. “That’s why I’m fighting.”

An urgent need for answers also drives Olivia Mokiejewski. Among them: Why didn’t the nursing home worker she saw sitting next to her grandmother video chat while locked up wear a mask or gloves and also passed the phone from one person to another without disinfecting it?

Her grandmother, Hermine Bideaux, was rushed to hospital 11 days later, after her concerned granddaughter asked a family friend, who is a doctor, to visit her. The doctor said he found the 96-year-old in a desperate state – barely conscious, feverish and severely dehydrated. Diagnosed with COVID-19 in the hospital, she held for three days before dying on April 4.

Mokiejewski has filed a homicide and threat lawsuit accusing the Korian Bel Air house on the southwestern outskirts of Paris of not preventing the spread of the disease. That was followed by a suit from the niece of an 89-year-old who was sitting with Mokievsky’s grandmother during the video call and who died two days after her.

Prosecutors in the Paris region have indicated that the allegations should be investigated and have accepted and transferred both complaints and five similar complaints to the police.

Korian, an industry leader, says the residence is not to blame.

“The staff fought daily, day and night, to protect residents with great courage and dedication,” said Emmanuel Daoud, lawyer for the home.

Mokiejewski has created a support group for families seeking redress called the 9,471 Collective, named after the number of nursing home deaths on May 5, when the group was formed. She acknowledges that collecting evidence can be challenging.

“Everything happened behind closed doors, in people with cognitive impairment,” she says. “They are perfect victims, perfect witnesses to such establishments. They have no memories. They don’t remember. They are lost. Their friends are gone. ‘

Arakelian’s latest lawsuit was filed on behalf of Monette Hayoun this week, alleging the manslaughter and danger of her brother’s death on March 26 at the Amaraggi Residence in Paris.

Amaraggi’s phone-reachable director said she didn’t want to be quoted. The charity foundation that runs the house did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.

In emails to residents’ families, managers had acknowledged at least 19 deaths among 80 residents in March and April. Meyer was one of the first to go.

As a child, Meyer contracted diphtheria and meningitis, and a raging fever damaged his brain. He had a penchant for memory games and was able to cancel family dates and phone numbers, but was unable to warn people if he was thirsty or hungry. On the sliding scale used in France to measure dependence, Meyer was rated as GIR 1, reserved for people in beds and wheelchairs in need of continuous care.

When Amaraggi closed its doors in March, Monette told her two other brothers that Meyer would not survive without his daily visits from two outside assistants the family had hired to keep him fed, hydrated, clean, and dressed. On March 10, one of the brothers, Robert Haiun, a doctor, wrote to the house managers begging for an exception to the rule that visitors should not come.

“The Amaraggi residence is permanently understaffed,” wrote the brother. “In this particularly delicate period, this understaffing threatens to worsen as the workload for all staff and residents becomes more vulnerable. By taking this help away for lunch, the afternoon snack, and the evening we set up for Meyer, Amaraggi takes on a great responsibility that we cannot take because it concerns our brother’s life. ”

Meyer’s helpers tried to gain entry the following days, but were turned down, the family says.

Only Robert could use his doctor status twice to visit Meyer. The second visit filled him with despair: he felt that Meyer had the same exhausted look as their mother when she died at the age of 105 in 2017.

Robert says that the doctor called the afternoon of Meyer’s death to say he suspected he got sick with COVID-19 and was leaving. But first he promised to give Meyer an IV because Robert was concerned that his brother was too weak to eat or drink and became dehydrated.

About three hours later, the doctor called again: a nurse had found Meyer dead in his room.

Robert says when he asked about the IV, “He told me,” I gave the order, but I don’t know if it happened. ”

He is torn about taking legal action.

“It will be very difficult to prove that there was clear and blatant neglect,” he says. “At best, we’ll prove negligence and what will it solve?”

The difficulty of obtaining information has already been proven: It was only on May 4, after repeated requests from family members, that managers revealed that 19 residents had died, saying they had previously withheld that information because “ it seemed particularly worrying and harmful to us. pass this information on to the families. ”

The family of the 82-year-old Holocaust survivor who suffocated last September chose not to file a lawsuit, discouraged by the prospect of taking over the operator of the house – the Casip-Cojasor Foundation, led by Eric the Rothschild, a descendant of Europe’s most famous banking dynasty.

The foundation has a long, proud history of helping needy Jews, and Meyer Haiun’s parents were among those who took advantage of her charity when they moved from Tunisia to France in the 1960s.

Philippe Chekroun, the son-in-law of the man who choked, said he felt it would be “pointless for just two or three of us to bump into a machine, a steamroller like the Casip.”

“How can you end up against such people knowing that the person controlling all of this is the Rothschild family?” he said. He requested that his father-in-law’s name not be disclosed.

But Monette Hayoun cannot let go: she feels that she has betrayed the promise she made to their mother that she would always protect her brother.

A week after Meyer’s death, the family received a short email from the Amaraggi chief nurse, saying, “He didn’t call anyone and left no message.”

That was no comfort to his family: Meyer hardly spoke and he couldn’t write.

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