Three Years After Half the Residents at a DomusVi Care Home in Spain Died of COVID 19, Relatives Are Still Waiting for Justice
“It was a tragedy, a real tragedy,” José Luiz Garcia, whose aunt was one of the few that survived the COVID-19 outbreak at a DomusVi care home in Alcoi, Spain, told CorpWatch. “This is the highest rate of deaths that we are aware of in all of Europe.”
Alcoi is a small city in Valencia, eastern Spain, with a population of 60,000. Some 74 out of 140 residents (53 percent) died over a two-month period when COVID-19 struck in early 2020. Families blame the deaths on poor management by DomusVi, a multinational healthcare company based in the western suburbs of Paris, France, that was awarded a concession to manage the home by the Valencia regional government in 2015.
DomusVi, which is owned by investment funds based in the tax haven of Jersey, is currently Europe’s third largest private eldercare home provider, according to Investigate Europe, with 36,000 beds spread across France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain. Outside of Europe, it has expanded its operations to China and Latin America. In Spain, DomusVi had contracts to manage 139 care homes in 2020 when the pandemic broke out.
Even before the pandemic, families were already concerned about the lack of staff. “People had to often relieve themselves in their beds because there were no people to accompany them to the toilets,” Garcia says. “There were many cases of malnutrition, dehydration, falls. You saw people with bruises on their faces because there was not enough attention.”
In late 2019, 146 affected family members from the Alcoi residence got together to submit a letter of protest against DomusVi with ten demands to the two local government bodies responsible – to the Alcoi town hall and to the Department of Equality and Inclusive Politics of the Community of Valencia. A government investigation in November 2019 found that DomusVi had failed to comply with staff-patient ratios and imposed a modest fine of €40,000 euros (US$43,800) on the company.
The families decided to set up a formal group to address these issues – so Association of Relatives of People Affected by the Residences of DomusVi Alcoi and Concentaina (AFADOMUSVI) was created in March 2020. In October 2021, AFADOMUSVI sued DomusVi for breach of contract, together with Mapfre, the insurance company, on behalf of 45 family members of Alcoi residents. A preliminary hearing in the lawsuit has been scheduled for September 7, 2023.
“[DomusVi] did not know how to manage [the care home] well, from the moment the first cases were detected until the spread,” Garcia, who is president of AFADOMUSVI, told CorpWatch.
Three years after the mass deaths, families of those who died gathered for a vigil in Alcoi on March 25, 2023, to honor all those who died. But the list of names was not even complete because DomusVi refused to provide details to the families. In a moving 36-minute tribute that was uploaded to YouTube, local musician Hiroshi Fuji played the dolçaina (a Spanish double reed instrument) after speakers Ramon Climent and Francesc Sempere spoke to the crowd together with Garcia.
Worker Protests, Profiting off the Dead
DomusVi had also long been the target of protests in Spain. Before the pandemic, most of the protests were organized by workers who demanded higher pay and better working conditions.
Protests against the company increased dramatically after the pandemic began, with family members of residents organizing in addition to the workers. At least 21 protests against DomusVi were documented by CorpWatch across Spain after March 2020. One of the key issues raised is the unusually high COVID-19 mortality rate at DomusVi-run care homes.
“DomusVi steals, deceives, treats residents as if they were numbers, it is only a business... and the government looks the other way,” Sonia Jalda, a member of the Galician Residential Workers Collective (TREGA) was quoted as saying in the daily news site Nòs Diário in June 2020. She was taking part at a protest against the company at its Galician headquarters, where the workers’ collective was organizing to demand that the government reverse the privatization of care homes and hire more staff.
To add insult to injury, in March 2021 infoLibre, a Spanish investigative journalism website, revealed that DomusVi was also acting as a commissioning agent for Mémora funeral homes across Spain between 2019 and 2020, receiving payments of up to €700 for every corpse they delivered.
This revelation caused even more anger. For example, the Euskal Langileen Alkartasuna (Basque Workers Solidarity) union wrote to the Basque government demanding that it cancel its contracts with DomusVi and publish the details of this business.
A Pattern Emerges
Data obtained by infoLibre shows that DomusVi care homes had much higher death rates than publicly managed care homes in multiple regions across Spain.
In Madrid, for instance, 15.7 percent of residents died from COVID-19 at DomusVi care homes, almost twice as many as at public care homes where just 7.9 percent died during the first wave of the pandemic. (CorpWatch illustrated this stark difference on a map that can be seen here.)
In the region of Galicia, northwestern Spain, care homes operated by DomusVi registered 48 percent of the deaths during the first wave – from COVID-19 or COVID-19-like symptoms – despite the company only managing 21.6 percent of the beds in the region.
And preventable deaths appear to have continued even after the pandemic ended: for example, two residents recently died at DomusVi care homes from falls in Valencia region – one at DomusVi Alcoi and one at DomusVi Concentaina (the other care home that AFADOMUSVI represents).
Today those who lost their loved have not given up their struggle for justice and their fight for better lives for the elderly. AFADOMUSVI says that its demands are simple: “More workers, more humane and smaller residences, with better access and more participation of family members and the residents themselves,” Garcia told CorpWatch. It remains to be seen whether the three years of protests and lawsuits by family members will get the company to change course.
CorpWatch reached out to DomusVi for a statement but the company had not responded at press time.