Clouds gather over the Minister of Welfare: Ombudsman sharply criticizes, Prime Minister is tolerant

People living in social care centers depend on the institution's compliance with epidemiological safety requirements and whether and to what extent it thinks about the health and lives of seniors and people with severe disabilities.
16.01.2021. Inga Paparde
 
GUIDELINES. Minister of Welfare Ramona Petraviča reminds everyone: although the Ministry of Welfare is responsible for the quality of social services, the head of each social care center is responsible for the observance of epidemiological safety measures. ©Oksana Džadana/ F64

The Ombudsman believes that the inaction of the Ministry of Welfare and local governments causes a threat to life due to the spread of Covid-19 to people living in social care centers.

36 people died with Covid-19 in state care centers within a month

Safety measures in social care centers during the spread of Covid-19 were already highlighted in the spring, when a state of emergency was first declared, however, despite various guidelines and recommendations, with the onset of the second wave of Covid-19, the incidence of Covid-19 in social care centers spread rapidly. There are no exact data on all patients with Covid-19 in all Latvian care centers, as the Ministry of Welfare collects data only on its subordinate centers (four state social care centers with 25 branches, the number of people living in them is close to 4,000). The highest number of Covid-19-infected people in public social care centers was in the period from Christmas to the first days of January (about 500 sick residents in the centers, Covid-19 spread in 16 out of 25 branches), while in general nursing homes, according to the Center for Disease Prevention and Control in December, the number of cases in Latvia exceeded one thousand.

At present, there are no exact data in Latvia on how many people living in social care centers have died due to Covid-19. Aldis Dūdiņš, Director of the Social Services Department of the Ministry of Welfare, points out that the Ministry has not currently compiled and compared data on the number of deaths in 2020 and 2019, however, it is known that 51 people died in state social care centers last December, 36 of them had Covid-19.

Requesting express tests

What has the Ministry of Welfare done so far to reduce the risks of Covid-19 spreading in care centers? Minister of Welfare Ramona Petraviča has sent a letter to social care centers, drawing attention to the measures to be taken to reduce the risks of Covid-19 infection. The Minister pointed out that each institution must have a system in place to monitor the health of employees and residents, and reminded that the head of each institution is personally responsible for the strict observance of epidemiological safety measures.

Following the Minister's initiative, the Cabinet of Ministers has agreed to centrally purchase and provide express tests in both state and municipal care institutions in order to quickly find out whether care center employees, especially those working in several workplaces, are infected with Covid-19 and can't continue working.

Who will be responsible for people's deaths?

However, criticism of the leadership of the Ministry of Welfare continues, as it is clear that decisive action should have taken place already in the autumn. Ombudsman Juris Jansons, who has repeatedly criticized the position of the Ministry of Welfare regarding social care centers, now points out that the ineffective co-operation between the Ministry of Welfare and local governments violates the rights of individuals to health and life.

Dozens of people have lost their lives in social care centers, which indicates that the country has not developed an effective social protection policy, as well as that its implementation is not organized and coordinated, according to the Ombudsman.

Juris Jansons emphasizes that the task of the Ministry of Welfare is to control the quality of social services, but local governments are also responsible for ensuring the rights of individuals in their long-term social care and social rehabilitation institutions. Municipalities have a duty to react immediately and seek appropriate solutions in cases where they are no longer able to manage the situation on their own. In its turn, the state has an obligation in such cases to intervene without delay and find the most appropriate solution for ensuring human rights.

CRITICISM. Ombudsman Juris Jansons emphasizes that the spread of Covid-19 in social care centers proves that the country has not developed an effective social protection policy, as well as its implementation is not organized and coordinated. / Oksana Džadana/ F64

"I believe that the Ministry of Welfare has not taken all necessary steps to prevent mass illnesses and deaths of clients and employees from Covid-19 infection in long-term social care and social rehabilitation institutions." The ombudsman's office has also concluded that long-term social care and social rehabilitation institutions do not seek support in a timely manner and even deny their inability to provide clients with adequate care, leading to an uncontrolled spread of infection and death of many clients. This failure has also been identified by the Health Inspectorate, which is preparing a report on inspections in social care centers.

The Ombudsman has sent a letter to the Prime Minister inviting him to raise the issue of the necessary improvements in the work of the Ministry of Welfare regarding the obligation to control the quality of social services in all long-term social care and social rehabilitation institutions. At the same time, the Ombudsman calls on the Latvian Association of Local and Regional Governments to regularly compile and provide the government with current information on the difficulties faced by local governments in providing long-term care in institutions in order to find a solution to the critical situation in the social care sector.

Not convinced if there is a plan

The Social and Labor Affairs Committee of the Saeima also calls on the government to solve this problem immediately in order to protect the residents and employees of the centers from infection. The call is in the form of a letter to the Prime Minister. Deputies, not receiving a sufficient explanation from the Ministry, call for the establishment of a situation study working group to evaluate the activities of the Ministry of Welfare.

"We are not convinced that the most successful action plan is currently being implemented to protect the residents of state and municipal centers from infection," admitted the chairman of the commission Andris Skride. In the letter, MPs ask a number of questions that should be addressed by the responsible ministry, such as Covid-19 testing procedures and test availability, a detailed action plan if vaccination in the centers were to start immediately, whether the responsible ministry has a plan to support the choice of employees not to work for several employers at the same time, as well as to think about higher bonuses for the lower-paid staff working with Covid-19 infected clients. The deputies also pointed out that currently the ministry should take care to limit the virus not only in the state social care centers but also in the municipal ones.

Head of Government Krišjānis Kariņš has admitted that the situation with Covid-19 in social care centers is unacceptable, however, he has not sharply criticized the work of the Minister.

 
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