Undersupplied and undermanned – are Czech nursing homes a ticking time bomb?

Photo: Filip Jandourek / Czech Radio

While the Czech Republic is faring better than some other European states in terms of COVID-19 infection rates, social care representatives are concerned that the state has not prepared sufficiently to handle the outbreak in nursing homes, where dozens of cases are now being registered.

Photo: Filip Jandourek / Czech Radio
The elderly are seen as most at risk from the novel coronavirus and new cases have been detected in at least six nursing homes across the Czech Republic. Some clients at those facilities have already fallen victim to the pandemic.

While some nursing homes report that they have sufficient medical equipment, others do not. On Thursday just 10 percent of Czech social facilities had FFP 3 respirators and 8 percent did not even have face masks, according to a survey conducted by the Association of Social Care Providers.

The situation was partly rectified the following day, after government negotiations led to some 500,000 respirators being delivered to nursing homes and other social care facilities.

However, this did not spare Minister of Health Adam Vojtěch from criticism on a Czech Television political discussion programme on Sunday, where the Health and Social Care Trade Union chairwoman Dagmar Žitníková said the ministry had mishandled the distribution of vital COVID-19 medical equipment.

“Since the beginning of March, social care providers have been writing to the health minister that they are lacking the necessary equipment. This was because the Health Ministry ordered that any sales of medical equipment to institutions other than the ministry be forbidden.

“When you consider the fact that medical equipment is bought continuously then it was obvious that after purchases were disallowed on March 4, they had nothing left by March 18.

“To deal with the situation, social care institutions have resorted to sewing their own masks.”

When it came to disinfectants, she said the situation was even worse, with some nursing homes reporting that they received only 1.5 litres for 300 people.

In response, Mr Vojtěch said that the ban on purchases only related to domestic production which is limited and to the most advanced FFP-3 type respirators from abroad. Furthermore, he stated that social care institutions had the time since January to stock up.

Adam Vojtěch,  photo: Michaela Danelová / Czech Radio
Another issue that many nursing homes are facing is a lack of staff, as many of those who normally take care of the clients have tested positive for COVID-19 themselves.

The regional government in Vysočina called on the army to help in a local nursing home in Břevnice, where nearly all of the clients tested positive. However, the army declined, stating a lack of capacity.

Whatever the situation, social care services are also at fault for the ongoing situation, Matěj Hollan, the director of the Czech Association of Non-Governmental Organizations, told the weekly Respekt on Sunday.

Labour and Social Affairs Minister Jana Maláčová had to be pushed to allow social services to prioritize senior citizens, according to Mr Hollan, who also sees a looming danger for people who are homeless or drug users.

The government has meanwhile issued an order that nursing homes need to create separate COVID infected and COVID-free zones, as well as not to admit clients who test positive for the virus starting Monday.

Many nursing homes have highlighted that they do not have the capacity to create separate zones and the trade unions are asking that those who are infected be transferred to hospitals. The Health Ministry has designated 329 spaces in two hospitals and a converted spa facility. However, in regards to the trade unions’ demand, Minister Vojtěch says that transferring all clients would overwhelm the health care system.