The muffled and gagging sounds in the background of the phone call frightened Monette Hayoun.
Did his 85 year old severely disabled brother Meyer choke on his food? Was he slowly suffocating like the Holocaust survivor who had died a few months earlier in another room in the nursing home, a piece of breakfast wand lodged in his throat?
Meyer Haiun died the next day, one of more than 14,000 deaths that tore apart nursing homes for the most vulnerable seniors in France when they were isolated from visitors during the peak of the coronavirus.
Three months later, questions torment Monette: how did her brother die? Did he suffer? And, the most rodent of all, who is responsible?
“Any questions I have about Meyer, maybe the truth is not as bad as I imagine,” she said. Still, she adds, “You can’t help but imagine the worst. “
As families return to nursing homes, which reopened for the first time in April and more widely this month, thousands of people are no longer mothers, fathers, grandparents, and brothers. and sisters to kiss and keep.
With graves so fresh that some still don’t have tombstones, grieving families across the country are increasingly demanding an account, turning to lawyers to try to figure out why nearly half of the estimated 30,000 COVID-19 deaths in France have struck residents of nursing homes, rummaging through the generations who matured after the First World War, endured the next world conflict and helped rebuild the country.
Many homes have caused few or no deaths. But others are emerging with their ragged reputation, having lost dozens of their care. Increasingly, homes face prosecution for wrongful death accusing them of careless care, skimping on protective equipment and staff, and lying to families about the deaths of loved ones and the actions they have taken to prevent infections.
Because COVID-19 has proven particularly deadly for the elderly, nursing homes around the world have quickly found themselves at the forefront of the pandemic. In the United States, residents of nursing homes account for almost 1 in 10 of all coronavirus cases and more than a quarter of all deaths. In Europe, residents of nursing homes account for one-third to almost two-thirds of deaths in many countries.
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To ward off infections, many homes have sealed themselves. In France, the government closed access to the country’s 7,400 medical facilities to the most dependent elderly on March 11, six days before placing the entire country in detention. But by then, the coronavirus was already starting to take its toll.
A large yellow file of complaints on the desk of Parisian lawyer Fabien Arakelian is a measure of the fury of families determined to get answers. The first complaint he made was about a house that he claims has lost 40 of its 109 residents; the stack has only grown since then.
Arakelian himself lost his grandfather to a retirement home before the pandemic.
“Unlike these families, I was lucky to be able to accompany him to the end, give him one last kiss, say one last goodbye. They didn’t get it, and it can never be returned to them, “he said. “This is why I am fighting. “
An urgent need for answers also drives Olivia Mokiejewski. Among them: why the worker in the nursing home she saw sitting next to her grandmother during a video chat during the lockout did not wear a mask or gloves and also switched the phone to from one person to another without disinfecting it?
Her grandmother, Hermine Bideaux, was rushed to hospital 11 days later after her worried granddaughter asked a family friend who is a doctor to visit her. The doctor said he found the 96-year-old man in a desperate state – barely conscious, feverish and severely dehydrated. Diagnosed in hospital with COVID-19, she hung on for three days before dying on April 4.
Mokiejewski has filed a conviction for manslaughter and endangerment accusing the home of Korian Bel Air in the southwest suburbs of Paris for not having prevented the spread of the disease. This was followed by a costume worn by the niece of an 89-year-old woman who sat with Mokiejewski’s grandmother during the video call and who died two days after her.
Noting that the charges deserve to be investigated, prosecutors in the Paris area accepted the two complaints and five others like them and turned them over to police investigators.
Korian, an industry leader, says the residence is not at issue.
“The staff fought daily, day and night, to protect the residents with great courage and dedication,” said Emmanuel Daoud, a lawyer for the home.
Mokiejewski set up a support group for families seeking redress called the collective 9,471, named because of the number of deaths in nursing homes on May 5, when the group was founded. She recognizes that gathering evidence could be a challenge.
“It all happened behind closed doors, in people with cognitive impairment,” she said. “They are perfect victims, perfect witnesses to this type of establishment. They have no memories. They are no longer safe. They are lost. Their friends are gone. “
Arakelian’s latest complaint was filed this week on behalf of Monette Hayoun, alleging manslaughter and endangering the March 26 death of her brother at the Amaraggi residence in Paris.
The director of Amaraggi, contacted by phone, said that she did not want to be quoted. The charitable foundation that runs the house did not respond to requests for comment from the Associated Press.
In emails to residents’ families, managers acknowledged at least 19 deaths among its 80 residents in March and April. Meyer was among the first to leave.
As a child, Meyer contracted diphtheria and meningitis, and rampant fevers damaged his brain. He had a gift for memory games and was able to recite family dates of birth and telephone numbers, but could not alert people when he was thirsty or hungry. On the mobile scale used in France to measure dependence, Meyer was classified GIR 1, reserved for people in bed and in a wheelchair requiring continuous care.
When Amaraggi closed in March, Monette told her two other brothers that Meyer would not survive without the daily visits from two outside helpers that the family had hired to keep him fed, hydrated, clean, and clothed. On March 10, one of the brothers, Robert Haiun, a doctor, wrote to those responsible for the home to request an exception to the no-visit rule.
“The Amaraggi residence is permanently understaffed,” wrote the brother. “In this particularly delicate period, this shortage of staff is likely to worsen as the workload increases for all staff and residents become fragile. By removing this aid for lunch, afternoon tea and the evening that we have set up for Meyer, Amaraggi assumes a great responsibility that we cannot accept because it concerns the life of our brother. “
Meyer’s aides tried to access services the following days, but were refused, the family said.
Locked out, only Robert was able to use his medical status to visit Meyer twice. The second visit fills him with despair: he felt that Meyer had the same exhausted look as their mother when she died at 105 years old in 2017.
Robert says the home doctor called the afternoon of Meyer’s death to say that he suspected that he himself had fallen ill with COVID-19 and that he was leaving. But first, he promised to put Meyer on an IV because Robert feared his brother was too weak to eat or drink and that he would become dehydrated.
About three hours later, the doctor called back: a nurse found Meyer dead in his room.
Robert says that when he asked about the drip, “He said, ‘I gave the order but I don’t know if it was done. “”
He is torn apart at the prospect of taking legal action.
“It will be very difficult to prove that there has been clear and gross negligence,” he said. “At best, we will prove negligence and what will it solve? “
The difficulty of obtaining information was already highlighted: it was not until May 4, after repeated calls from relatives, that the managers revealed that 19 residents had died, claiming that they had previously hidden this information because “it seemed to us particularly disturbing and dangerous to communicate this data to families. “
The family of the 82-year-old Holocaust survivor who choked to death last September chose not to press charges, deterred by the prospect of taking over the operator of the home – the Casip-Cojasor Foundation , led by Eric de Rothschild, a descendant of The most famous banking dynasty in Europe.
The foundation has a long and proud history of helping needy Jews, and Meyer Haiun’s parents were among those who benefited from his charity work when they left Tunisia for France in the 1960s.
Philippe Chekroun, the son-in-law of the man who choked, said he believed that “it would be useless for two or three of us to collide with a machine, a steamroller like the Casip”.
“How can you judge people like that, knowing that the person who controls it all is the Rothschild family?” ” he said. He asked that the name of his stepfather not be published.
But Monette Hayoun can’t let go: she feels like she has betrayed the promise she made to their mother to always protect her brother.
A week after Meyer’s death, the family received a brief email from Amaraggi’s chief nurse, saying, “He didn’t call anyone and left no messages. “
It was no comfort to his family: Meyer barely spoke and he couldn’t write.
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