No, it’s not less serious when old people die. Not when such deaths were perfectly avoidable, at least in these proportions. We are living a real massacre in which nursing homes take the place of punishment battalions . When entering them to disinfect them, the soldiers from the emergency unit of the Spanish army are witnessing nightmarish scenes of death and abandonment . A nursing home costs a lot more per month than the median Spanish salary ; paying for it is a family effort. And yet, families are now finding out that the companies which bled them every month were not able to provide a minimum of protection to their parents and grandparents when the epidemic broke out, to establish a protocol for hospitalizing them, and in many cases not even to provide medical care when they became ill. The truth is that almost nothing seems to have been done to prevent contagion, and in many cases the sick were left to die first and then the bodies were left to rot on the beds . There is something obviously wrong, very wrong, criminally wrong with this.
Who runs the nursing homes?
Residences are a multi-billion euro business. Hidden behind the residences in which we have seen deaths pile up these days lie large groups of capital. You only have to look at the ownership structure to see that. At the ” Vitalia Home ” in Leganés, 60 people had already died by 30 March. The military emergency unit found 11 abandoned bodies there . The company had received 57.5 million euros from the European Investment Bank to build 19 residences . The property was acquired two years ago by a British venture capital fund, shareholder of Naturgy and owner of the Alfonso X el Sabio University and Deoleo – the monopoly of olive oil distribution.
Let’s continue with some nursing homes that have been intervened in extremis by the state. It was in one of them, owned by Orpea, where some of the first alarms went off after workers reported that the company was hiding deaths. The company, a French multinational with a book value of 6 billion euros, is the vehicle of a dozen large pension funds.
These are not individual cases. The history of large companies in the sector is a soap opera of mergers, acquisitions and capital flows up and down. The biggest of them all in Spain, DomusVi, a party of French, British and Spanish capitals dancing in corporate operations, had in Espartales the most serious case – the residence has been intervened now due to the magnitude of the disaster – it is also the owner of the residence in Aldán, Pontevedra, where yesterday they had 5 deaths in a single day and 108 elderly people are infected.
Of course, even if the lion’s share of the market is in large funds, there is always room for some “enterprenurial” petty bourgeoisie sufficiently connected to regional politics to raise public funds. Their results have not been shown to be any better. Just look at the headlines about companies like Aralia which manages the Isabel la Católica residence, a cruel disaster these days, or about “los Miami”, owners of the Monte Carmelo residence where first 19 and then 26 deaths – and more to come – were followed by reports of abandoned bodies, lack of hygiene and an investigation by the public prosecutor’s office.
Why are neither large nor small companies working?
It is clear that neither large nor small companies, nor the contracting of one or the other for management have produced anything other than abomination. But it is that once again, under the lying and narcotizing language of the “caring” industry, the reality of a basic contradiction between the logic of capital and human needs is hidden . A company is as good for a fund as it is capable of using more capital profitably. What are the residences? Real estate investments – which require large volumes of capital – with a statistically calculable return, low default and secure occupancy. A “candy for funds” :
Investors see in senior centers a golden opportunity because they are “recurrent businesses” or fixed or periodic income that, in addition, have a low default rate (less than 1%, when the bank exceeds 10%), and because of the existence of a growing demand according to the figures of almost full occupancy shown by the sector. The estimate of the Spanish growth curve is negative, so the proportion of elderly people in the population will become increasingly higher.
A great way to increase their average rate of profit. Capital is happy to go back. Especially if the business itself is well known: a particularly safe and highly profitable real estate investment in a hotel business. Both dimensions are well known. And as in every hotel and catering business, they come with a certain amount of precarization, lack of personnel and calculated negligence to save costs by not considering the unexpected. No, the lack of workers, the lack of protection measures and their disqualification to face the epidemic was not something “unpredictable” but routine to the point of being incorporated into the calculation of the rate of profit: before the arrival of the Covid, the ratio of personnel was 0.47%, when in France for example, where it is already clearly insufficient, it was 0.61%. The over-exploitation of workers and the lack of sufficient resources in care were commonplace and served to accelerate the return on investment.
With capital doing the best for profit, what it is compatible with the basic needs of its own clients as long as these needs lie within the statistically calculable -everything else is bad for profitability- the state systematically disregarded the risk of spread and did not bother to make a contingency plan to help some residences representing the highest concentration of people at risk in the whole country. Moreover, only today, after two weeks of confinement, in the midst of daily complaints and nightmarish situations, there is still no plan of action, only the intervention of the residences by several (regional) autonomous communities means that they take over the responsibility and take the management away from the companies.
The massacre of the residences is a very clear expression of how the objectives and incentives of accumulation are opposed to the most basic human needs. The result is a bloody incompetence from the point of view of something as basic as the protection of human lives, but in reality, it has been “exemplary” from the point of view of the placement of capital and its profitability. Covid has spread and swept through them precisely because they were efficient for the purposes for which they were created.
The point is that, for something as obvious as protecting the lives of our families, we cannot allow basic services such as care during the last years of life to be organized from these criteria or directed by a class for whom saving lives is less relevant than saving investments.