Covid-19 measures remain voluntary for elderly care homes
Months after outrage over what critics called avoidable Covid-19 deaths of elderly care home residents, Luxembourg's government on Wednesday stopped short of imposing mandatory measures on the sector, instead offering guidance on how to avoid a repeat as winter approaches.
Officials in Prime Minister Xavier Bettel's government knew that retirement home residents ran a high risk of dying during last year's Covid-19 surge, but mostly left decisions about proper safeguards in the hands of staff running the homes, an investigation headed by senior statesman Jeannot Waringo found in July.
Family Affairs Minister Corinne Cahen narrowly survived subsequent demands for her resignation after the pandemic swept through homes caring for some of the most vulnerable, with opposition lawmakers calling her response vague and chaotic.
Wednesday’s list of recommendations for the managers of the 65 homes which care for more than 7,300 elderly people avoided imposing mandatory precautions.
“Sporadic infections will always be a part of the new reality of life. It is therefore important to prevent the entry and spread of the virus as well as chain infections (clusters) in nursing homes for the elderly,” the joint guidance from Cahen’s ministry and Paulette Lenert’s health ministry stated.
Staff working in the homes “are reminded of the ethical requirement to be vaccinated,” but there is no mention of jabs becoming mandatory. Priority is to be given to respecting individual rights and freedoms of residents, the guidelines added.
Each home should keep a register tracking the name, address, mobile phone number and the time of each visit to make contact tracing easier, the recommendations urge. Visitors should wear a mask when walking through a care home, the ministries said.
Elderly residents in nursing and care homes represented nearly half of all Covid-19 deaths last year as prevention measures fell short, The Luxembourg Times reported in February. During the first six months of the pandemic, which claimed the first Luxembourg death in March 2020, nearly 52% of fatalities involved residents of care homes, this website reported in September.
This year, nearly 350 residents of 52 nursing and retirement homes died among the 808 fatalities through mid-May, when the elderly became largely protected after the country's vaccination campaign that gave them top priority, the government said.
Almost 96% of elderly residents in communal homes were vaccinated as of 11 September, the ministries said on Wednesday.
A two-month investigation by Waringo and seven others found Bettel's government failed to come up with guidelines for protecting elderly residents during last summer's lull in infections, when national education officials were devising a strategy to safely reopen schools last autumn.
Recommendations from the family affairs ministry on how to protect residents were unclear and government officials could not enforce them because the ministry, despite overseeing the homes, lacked authority over their operations, the report found.
Care home administrators were also confused by the overlapping roles of Cahen's family ministry and Lenert's health ministry, which took a broader role in overseeing the country’s pandemic response, Waringo said.
But the report largely avoided assigning responsibility for why Covid-19 cut a deadly path through predictably vulnerable nursing and care homes.
In another foul-up, earlier this year health authorities admitted they had lost track of important details about who was dying from Covid-19 because they were overwhelmed by the multiplying tasks associated with managing the crisis, Health Minister Paulette Lenert told The Luxembourg Times.
The ministry lacked sufficient staff to keep up with the flow of data from Luxembourg doctors detailing each death from the virus, Lenert said in March. That was because death reports by physicians delivered on paper had to be entered into computer systems manually for analysis by just a handful of health officials, she added.
Her ministry's spokeswoman had initially blamed the World Health Organization for Luxembourg's inability to describe how many of last year's 507 deaths were in care homes, hospitals or at home.