PARIS (AP) — France’s government pledged Wednesday to investigate what it called “absolutely revolting” allegations that a world leader in care for older adults has been putting profit before quality, rationing food and other items for nursing home residents.
Orpea, with more than 1,100 care homes in 23 countries, has vigorously denied the accusations of shoddy and rapacious care which have battered its stock-market value in Paris this week and are contained in an investigative journalist’s book published Wednesday.
Government spokesman Gabriel Attal described the alleged practices described in the book as “absolutely revolting” and said “reading such things leaves a knot in the stomach.”
Attal said the government is considering launching an independent investigation to inspect “the entirety of the Orpea group.”
“Our elders deserve respect,” he said. “Tolerating such schemes in our country is out of the question.”
Although Orpea is a private-sector company, the allegations are putting French ministers on the defensive because they risk throwing the spotlight back on the France’s elderly care policies, after nursing homes saw atrocious suffering in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.
COVID-19 infections devastated older generations before vaccinations curbed death rates in nursing homes and helped restore freedom for elderly residents who were often kept isolated in what some described as prison-like conditions.The pandemic has claimed nearly 130,000 lives in France, with 27,400 dying in care homes.
With President Emmanuel Macron facing re-election in April, the three-year investigation into the business of elderly care by journalist Victor Castanet has been seized upon by Macron’s election rivals. Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen is calling for a parliamentary enquiry into the private management of care homes.
Orpea, in a statement, contested the book’s allegations as lies. It noted that France’s care-home sector is subject to “strict regulation and regular controls by public authorities.”
Among those quoted in the book was a former Orpea nursing home employee who alleged that sanitary protections for residents were rationed to three a day in the care unit with a “terrible smell of piss” where she worked.
The government’s minister for elderly care, Brigitte Bourguignon, said she wants to determine whether the allegations are limited in scope to just one care home or reveal “a system organized by Orpea.”
“Trimming on quality out of concern for profitability would be very harmful,” she tweeted.