On March 12, 2020, two days before the declaration of the state of alarm throughout Spain, the Government of Madrid announced what it called “a historic plan” with which to face the threat of the coronavirus. In the third point of the press release, there was a resounding commitment: “The residences are going to be medicalized and the infected elderly will be treated right there.” The guarantee that the elderly would have the necessary health care regardless of the situation in the hospitals was written.
It was never fulfilled.
It was not long before it was seen what was going to happen. A week later, the Ministry of Health sent the first of the four versions of a protocol to the residences that authorized the geriatricians of the public hospitals to deny hospitalization to sick elderly people in the residences.
On March 22, the Minister of Social Policies, Alberto Reyero, of Ciudadanos, sent the Minister of Health, Enrique Ruiz Escudero, of the PP, a message in which he opposed the protocol that in practice prevented thousands of elderly from being referred. He had found out about its existence the day before, but not from anyone in the Department of Health.
“That would unfortunately lead to many residents dying in undignified conditions,” the counselor wrote.
They didn’t pay any attention to it. All powers related to the pandemic, including residences, had been left in the hands of Escudero by order of the president, Isabel Díaz Ayuso.
Reyero testified on Thursday as a witness in a Madrid Court before the judge investigating those protocols. At that time, the last plenary session of the legislature was held in the autonomous Assembly. The opposition asked Díaz Ayuso for that appearance. “I hope that the second gentleman who mentions me (by Reyero), is accused today of his statements,” he replied.
In the eyes of Ayuso, Reyero committed a cardinal sin that justifies eternal hatred. Refuse to bury the controversy over the death of seven thousand elderly people in Madrid residences in the first two months of the pandemic. Affirm in public that some could have been saved or that all of them were left to fend for themselves. Write a book about his experience in the Government (he resigned in October 2020).
In the first message sent to Escudero and other senior officials, Reyero warned them of the consequences that prohibiting the hospitalization of these elderly people would have. He included the text in the book ‘They will die in an unworthy way’, published by Libros del KO: “If we apply this to people with disabilities, the situation has a more serious component; In this case, it could happen that people with severe disabilities but good life expectancy (…) could be rejected in this referral and we would incur in discrimination with serious legal consequences”.
With such notice, it is not strange that the law of silence was imposed later.
What happened in the residences? Long after, Reyero himself offered testimonies collected by Doctors Without Borders and Amnesty International:
“You called 061 or liaison units and if you were over 85 years of age and had a physical or intellectual disability, it was not possible to refer them.”
“When I called, they asked me for my name, ID and the Barthel and LOBO scales. If you said that he was over 85 years old, with a bad score on those scales, there was nothing to do anymore ”.
“An attempt was made to refer two residents for whom we no longer had the means, from the hospital they confirmed that they would not be admitted.”
“You called the referral hospital and they told you: sorry, today we can only admit one person from residences, you choose. Even so, the ambulance did not come to pick her up and they died in a few hours or days.”
The later official version is that these protocols were only drafts. Or that they simply did not exist, as Díaz Ayuso said on several occasions. “A report that is not true and that was not enforced in any way,” he said.
Together with Reyero, he testified on Thursday in court Carlos Mur, who was precisely the person who signed the protocols as general director. Mur said that those plans existed, that they came from the decisions of counselor Escudero and that the promised medicalization of the residences was not carried out. Those centers were not reinforced with health personnel. He also declared that the protocols were voluntary, which is hard to believe in the middle of a national emergency.
About the alleged medicalization, later it was known what it consisted of. He was limited to a visit by a private ambulance company that did not have the necessary means to improve anything. It was done by an outsourced company run by the daughter of a former community director with no healthcare experience. The doctors who made that round were not given a contract.
That former senior official, who made a report on the response to the pandemic for the Ayuso government, was clear in June about what had happened in the end: “I believe that throughout Spain (the elderly in the residences) were left to their fate , including Madrid”.
The prosecutor of the court did not bother to attend the statement of Reyero and Mur. He was not obliged, but he calls attention to his lack of interest with two witnesses who played an essential role in the investigated case. The State Attorney General’s Office ordered prosecutors in October to listen to the families of the victims and take appropriate investigative steps.
In the case of the Madrid prosecutors, that does not even include listening to very relevant witnesses.
For a time, the PP and some media spread the hoax that Pablo Iglesias, then vice president, had assumed jurisdiction over all residences in Spain. The Ministry of Social Affairs sent an extraordinary item of 300 million euros to the autonomies to reinforce this service, but it had not taken charge of its management. As Ayuso’s decision to hand over control of the residences to his Health Minister demonstrates, he would not have been able to take that step if it turned out that the powers were in the central government.
The response of the PP of Madrid to all the controversy of the so-called “protocols of shame” has always been based on denying the responsibility of the Ayuso government. The health system of practically the entire country collapsed in the first months of the pandemic, with which they would have arguments to say that all these decisions were forced by completely extraordinary circumstances.
But this recognition of a reality that overwhelmed the governments in Spain and in the rest of Europe would have refuted the idea on which the political and electoral strategy of the Madrid PP was built. Namely, what Díaz Ayuso saved Madrid and all of Spain thanks to her measures and that she was always ahead of the emergency.
Those seven thousand deaths could not be allowed to tarnish the image of Ayuso.