It is well known that the current pandemic affects mainly the elderly, who constitute an exceptional risk population in this epidemic. An analysis of circumstances and health conditions that contribute to the devastating mortality in this group is a matter of worldwide concern in terms of healthcare and bioethics.
The Bioethics Observatory at the Catholic University of Valencia (Spain) has just now obtained reliable global data on the incidence of deaths from coronavirus in this population in Spain. This is not a regional problem but affects the elderly worldwide; in this regard, the WHO declared that, globally, 50% of those who died from the virus belonged to this group.
Below, we excerpt a report published on May 30 by RTVE, the official Spanish television channel, with the title Snapshot of coronavirus in nursing homes: more than 17,000 deaths due to lack of generalized testing
“In the absence of generalized testing, it has been impossible until now to know the number of fatalities that the coronavirus has left in the approximately 5,457 Spanish nursing homes, whether public, state-subsidized or private. However, according to data provided by the Spanish Autonomous regions and already in the hands of the Government -although they have not yet been disclosed- the number of residents of these types of centers who have died with COVID-19 or similar symptoms stands at 17,017. Thus, the number of those who died in nursing homes is equivalent to 67.84% of the total number officially reported by the Ministry of Health.” The report continues, “Given these data, the State Prosecutor’s Office, through the Deputy Prosecutor for the Protection and Defense of the Rights of the Elderly and the Network of Provincial Prosecutors, has opened 121 civil and 110 criminal proceedings concerning the protection of the individual and collective rights of these people in a ‘situation of vulnerability’.”
American coronavirus nursing home mortality
Meanwhile, last Wednesday, May 29, American newspaper The Atlantic published an article with the shocking title ‘We’re Literally Killing Elders Now’ (See also The Washington Post’s investigation: Number of nursing homes with publicly reported cases of the coronavirus soars.) The following excerpt from The Atlantic reports what we consider to be of particular bioethical interest.
“An estimated 70 percent of coronavirus deaths in Minnesota have been linked to long-term-care facilities. In at least six states, these fatalities account for half of all COVID-19 deaths, and according to the World Health Organization, half of all coronavirus fatalities in Europe have been traced to nursing homes too. Some of this mortality is linked to long-term-care facilities that are shoddily run or that violate health standards. But most of them are doing the best they can with what they have. And they don’t have much.”
Health officials did not prioritize the residents and staff of such facilities in both cases
The frail residents at these facilities are obviously especially susceptible to a lethal virus. But structural weaknesses endemic to America’s long-term-care system—underinvestment, understaffing, and the use of low-wage employees—have made a dangerous situation much more deadly, health-policy experts say. So has the Government’s response to the virus: The initial epicenter of the pandemic in the United States was a nursing home outside Seattle, where at least 40 residents have died of COVID-19. Yet following that outbreak, health officials did not prioritize the residents and staff of such facilities in the rest of the country to receive lifesaving testing and equipment.”
Our statement of coronavirus nursing home mortality
Our Observatory believes that much remains to be done in relation to the care of the elderly. This crisis shows how our overdeveloped societies undervalue the elderly, even depriving them of the most basic health care.