Amnesty calls for COVID-19 investigation into Italian nursing homes | Health Info

By NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press

ROME (AP) – Amnesty International calls for an independent parliamentary inquiry into COVID-19 deaths in Italian nursing homes and reports of retaliation against nursing home staff who denounced the dangerous conditions there low.

Amnesty based its findings on interviews with 34 health workers, as well as union leaders and lawyers. A third of workers “have expressed concerns about a climate of fear and reprisals in their workplaces,” Amnesty said in a statement Friday.

Italian nursing homes, like those elsewhere in Europe, the United States and beyond, have recorded a significant share of deaths from COVID-19, and prosecutors in dozens of jurisdictions have opened criminal investigations for whether the deaths could have been prevented.

Italy was the first western country to be hit by the outbreak and quickly ran out of protective gear, face masks and hospital beds, especially in the hardest part of Lombardy affected. In the first wave of contagion, many residents of elderly care facilities in Lombardy were not even taken to hospital because there was no room for them.

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In addition to the heavy toll for residents of nursing homes, Amnesty said some employees who complained about the lack of protective equipment or raised other concerns about unsafe working conditions in the facilities said subject to disciplinary proceedings.

A case cited by Amnesty concerned the suspension of Pietro La Grassa, a union representative at the Pio Albergo Trivulzio retirement home in Milan, the largest in Italy.

Italian prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into the Trivulzio house after La Grassa and a handful of doctors and employees sounded the alarm over the high number of deaths at the start of the epidemic. Some have alleged managers told them not to wear masks for fear of scaring residents, a charge denied by management.

Milan prosecutors recently decided to close their investigation into Trivulzio without filing a complaint, Italian news agency ANSA reported on October 18. La Grassa was ordered to be reinstated in his functions by a court in Milan in December 2020.

Amnesty Italy’s office last year released a report titled “Abandoned”, alleging that Italian authorities violated the human rights of residents of nursing homes in three of the hardest-hit regions, Lombardy, l ‘Emilia Romagna and Veneto, failing to protect their right to life and health.

The total death toll among residents of Italian elderly care facilities is not known, as residents were not tested at the start of the epidemic and suspected COVID-19 deaths are not listed in the official statement of Italy. The Higher National Institute of Health found that at least 9,154 people died in nursing homes from February to May 2020, but this survey was based on partial responses to a voluntary survey by a quarter of 4 600 estimated Italian nursing homes.

Amnesty’s call for a parliamentary inquiry follows a decision by lawmakers in July to drastically limit the scope of a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the pandemic to simply examine events prior to January 30, 2020, when the government declared a state of emergency and suspension of flights to and from China. As a result, the Italian investigation will not take into account the actual outbreak in Italy or how it was treated here, as the first locally transmitted case was only confirmed in northern Lombardy at the end of February.

As recently as last week, relatives of victims launched an online petition calling for Parliament to return to the original scope of an investigation into the causes of the outbreak here and the actions taken by the government and the World Health Organization to try to limit it.

Apart from that, consumer rights group Codacons collected data on behalf of relatives of people who died in nursing homes and passed the information on to prosecutors. If these cases ever go to trial, relatives could join the prosecution as injured parties in the civil part of the case.

In addition, a class action lawsuit against the government, the Ministry of Health and the region of Lombardy, filed on behalf of some 500 relatives of victims, has started in the civil court in Rome. The only other major criminal investigation is being led by prosecutors in the hard-hit Bergamo province looking at Italy’s preparedness and whether a delayed lockdown there has helped fuel the contagion.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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