Italy’s nursing homes, ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic which claimed the lives of thousands of residents, face financial pressures that threaten to put many out of business and create a fresh elderly care crisis.
With costs escalating because of the pandemic and new admissions to care homes blocked in regions including Lombardy, the epicentre of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak, care home operators say many may not survive without government help.
“In October, unless something happens that allows us to fill empty beds, and unless we get some help with the extraordinary costs we have taken, we’ll have to file for bankruptcy,” said Walter Montini, head of an association for 30 care homes in the region around Cremona.
“Instead of taking on new residents, we’ll have to send people home to their families.”
The COVID-19 outbreak has taken a heavy toll on nursing homes ever since the disease first emerged in Lombardy in late February. Many were told to take in patients with the disease to relieve the region’s overwhelmed hospitals, despite a lack of protective equipment.
“We all came under a lot of pressure from Lombardy regional government to take in COVID patients. We were at our wits’ end,” said Mariuccia Rossini, head of industry association Agespi.
Lombardy government officials say only care homes with separate buildings or floors that could be reserved for coronavirus patients who were on the road to recovery were asked to take them.
Although no precise mortality figures exist due to problems with testing, a survey of 577 care homes by Italy’s top health institute, the Istituto Superiore di Sanita, found that of 3,859 deaths in February and March, 1,443 had COVID-19-like symptoms.
With one of the oldest populations in Europe, Italy is acutely dependent on care homes to help families cope with looking after elderly relatives. Industry associations estimate the waiting list for places currently stands at around 100,000.
Diego Lorenzi said his 88-year-old mother, who suffers from severe dementia, has been on a waiting list for a year. Although he said he had long resisted placing her in care, he and his sisters could no longer manage.
“Managing a disease like that is impossible for us. My family and my two sisters can’t do it any more. I’ve asked so many homes in Bergamo and the answer’s the same everywhere: No.”