Amnesty International on Monday accused Spanish prosecutors of failing to properly investigate scores of cases linked to the COVID-related deaths of residents of nursing homes.
Accompanied by two women demanding answers after their mothers died in homes during the devastating first wave, Amnesty’s Spain director Esteban Beltran said in some cases authorities closed the investigations without contacting staff or victims’ families.
The group said in a report that 89% of investigations opened by the public prosecutor last January into more than 200 cases of criminal neglect at nursing homes were dropped, without any clear consequences for those involved.
“There is a risk of absolute impunity,” Beltran told reporters in Madrid.
“You can reach that conclusion (of closing a case) but first you have to properly investigate,” he said, calling for prosecutors to reopen cases and for a cross-party parliamentary commission to be formed.
More than 35,000 elderly nursing home residents are suspected to have died from COVID-19, according to data from the Social Security Ministry, the bulk of them in the first months of the pandemic.
Enriqueta Lopez said her elderly mother, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease, drowned in her own vomit in a home in Barcelona where nearly half the 91 residents died after coronavirus struck.
Lopez said one staff member had to care for 23 residents including her mother, who was supposed to be kept in an inclined position at all times but was found lying flat.
She said staff from a nearby health centre, who were granted access to the home, found other residents died from malnutrition or infected bedsores.
A national prosecutor dropped an investigation into the home so Lopez turned to a regional prosecutor who told her to pursue a civil case.
“We don’t want a civil suit. We want to know why she died,” she told Reuters. “We will never again be able to go back to who we were.”
Angela Arreba faced a similar battle for justice for her mother, Julia, who died at a Madrid nursing home in April after its operators refused to transfer her to a hospital when she tested positive for COVID-19.
“The prosecutor’s obligation is to protect citizens and that’s not what they’re doing,” she said. “They want us to move on and forget.”