“They were so desperate they were almost crying” – Volunteers supply face masks to Czech nursing homes

Photo: Filip Jandourek / Czech Radio

Realising around a month ago that Czech nursing homes were not receiving surgical masks or other materials needed to combat Covid-19, journalist Judita Matyášová began doing something about it. Under the name Roušky seniorům (Face Masks for Seniors), she and three dozen other volunteers have now delivered around 20,000 to facilities around the country. I discussed the initiative with Matyášová.

Photo: Filip Jandourek / Czech Radio
“I started this activity a few days after the state of emergency was declared.

“It was not so easy then for all people, especially for seniors, to find a place where they could get masks.

“In those days wearing masks wasn’t so common as it is now.

“So that was why I decided to do it.

“I knew it wasn’t only about seniors; they were of course extremely important for people who work with seniors.

“Because people who work with seniors travel back and forth to senior homes – and they didn’t have masks yet.”

Do they need better ones that I need for going to the shop, for example?

“For sure, that would be the best situation for staff.

“They also need plastic shields with respirators – that would be the best.

“But in those days they didn’t have anything. And if they did, it was a very simple, one-layer mask – not double-layer with a filter.”

But you are now sourcing for these homes masks that do have filters, is that right?

“Yes. One week or 10 days ago we started cooperation with the Technical University in Liberec, who have a special kind of filter.

“Then according to their instructions we sent these instructions to the people who were creating the masks for us.

“They did that exactly so we can put it together, the filter and mask.

“Then we were able to distribute these much better masks to seniors’ homes and to the staff.”

Some people listening to this may be thinking, Surely these homes should be receiving masks and other materials from the state? What is the mood among clients and staff at nursing homes regarding how they are being treated by the state?

“At the beginning it was an extremely desperate mood.

Judita Matyášová,  photo: Eva Dvořáková / Czech Radio
“I had around 80 or 100 calls every day. We cooperate with 40 senior homes and social care centres and most of these places told me they needed at least 200 masks immediately.

“They were so desperate they were almost crying.

“They told us, Everybody cares about other places, like hospitals or health institutes, but not so many authorities care about senior homes.

“Then after about one week – I’m talking about the 20-somethingth of March – the situation was changing a little.

“But the breaking point was the day when the first senior died.

“The people of the Czech Republic and the media were suddenly interested.

“That was the start of a big boom of solidarity and help.

“That was very important – but somehow it was very late.”

So now the situation is considerably better at these facilities?

“Now it is better.

“But what is still there, and what was a big shock for me, is that there is such fear to inform the media about the real situation in senior homes.

“As I heard their problems so many times, I started to ask if they were able to share their experience in the media.

“And they told me, We understand it is necessary to inform the media, but we are scared our city council or higher authority will halt our financing, so we prefer to be in silence.

“This is so scary for me – that these people are in this difficult situation and they are not able to speak freely.”