There is line. One, two and three rings rings until the answering machine picks up. On the other side, a tired, lost look, waiting for his niece or son to answer. Weeks go by and the room remains the same: with hardly any sunlight and with walls that cannot bear memories of other lives, other times. And finally the uncertainty turns into sadness, flooding the final stretch of a life that, far from being surrounded by its loved ones, will turn off its light in the cold bed of a residence.
The elderly abandonment in the hospitals of Tenerife is a reality. Hundreds of elderly people live their last days in a hospital ward until, hopefully, Social Services relocates them to the appropriate centers for their care and attention, despite their desire to return to their homes. As DIARIO DE NOTIOS has been able to find out, at the beginning of summer 2021, some 50 persons were in a situation of helplessness in the Canary Islands University Hospital (HUC), While in the Our Lady of Candelaria University Hospital the number was even higher, roughly 200. Unacceptable figures.
Unfortunately, although health personnel encounter the situation daily, it is a taboo subject, either because of the rejection caused by inaction on the part of those close to them, or because of the frustration of feeling tied up in the face of the administrations. A HUC medical, who prefers to remain anonymous, has decided to break his silence in favor of those who have given their lives for their own, those who now precisely choose to renounce their care in old age. “In Tenerife there is quite a reluctance for relatives to take the elderly from the hospital,” says the doctor, who also recognizes that in her years of experience in different parts of the country, she had never faced such a delicate issue as the one she has This has been happening on the island for years. “I don’t know if the economic situation in the Canary Islands is worse or the work pressure prevents a better conciliation, but it is true that there are more cases of abandonment here,” he declares.
His son spits us on the phone that he does not intend to open the door for his father, even if he is collecting his pension
For his part, the director of the State Confederation of Active Seniors (Confemac), Vicente Perez, explains that the low economic solvency may be one of the reasons that justifies this renunciation of care. In his years at the helm of the association, dedicated to the integration of the elderly in society through dynamic elements, he admits that “it is true that some children give up their parents for no apparent reason when they need them, but they are specific occasions. it can generalize ”, he points out regarding the family environment. However, the Confemac spokesperson, who is familiar with the figures in the Tenerife clinics, agrees with the interviewee referring to a confederation study: “We hardly have situations of people abandoned by their relatives in the hospitals of the Peninsula.”
In this regard, the HUC worker explains that the types of omissions on the part of the descendants are multiple. “There are patients who are more dependent, but others walk independently and openly state that they want to go home; the problem is that his son, for example, tells us on the phone that he does not intend to open the door, even collecting his pension, and that is devastating because we are talking about people who are living the end of their life ”.
Paco is more than 80 years old and, despite a slight cognitive deterioration, he is developing normally. He entered the HUC due to a setback. After successfully undergoing an intervention and a postoperative period, the octogenarian wanted to return to his home, which is also his property. However, his daughter refused to receive him. The old man ended up in a residence, deceived even by the hospital staff who, out of humanity, preferred to tell him that he was being transferred to a rehabilitation center and omit the truth.
Carmen’s medical history was mixed. He was over 90 years old and dementia to an advanced degree. She was hospitalized in the HUC and, once she was discharged, her daughter declared without hesitation that she was tired of caring for her, despite being informed that her mother could die at any moment. The woman would have died surrounded by loved ones in her own bed, but she did so completely alone in a hospital room.
Juan was also a patient at the HUC. The farmer, who owns several pieces of land on the island, lost the mobility of his legs and none of his children (almost a dozen) are willing to take him in or pay for a residence, only one of them lacks financial means. To this day, he is still in a hospital ward.
PROTOCOL TO FOLLOW
When this type of event occurs, the hospitals contact the social services of the Autonomous Community so that, through the corresponding protocol, the person is assigned a public residence. The HUC doctor affirms that, as a professional, she must discharge them from the hospital, leaving the affected person “in a kind of limbo until there is a place available.” Specifically, they are housed in a low-demand hospital facility where, due to the restrictions decreed by the pandemic, many were unable to receive visitors for quite some time. The period usually lasts about four months, but unfortunately, “I have had patients who have died before.”
The director of Confemac maintains that the lack of bureaucratic agility in the Dependency area is an institutional mistreatment in itself. “It is not logical that someone who requests an assessment is waiting several months for the appeal to arrive,” says Pérez, who regrets that there are times when when the aid is approved “the person is already in the cemetery.”
In reference to abandonment, he emphasizes the importance of reporting because “everyone has the right to do so”. In fact, the confederation itself has received lawsuits from third parties accusing them of humiliating treatment or elder abuse. On the other hand, the doctor has made the authorities aware of the barbarity that happens in the HUC. “I have referred several situations to the Prosecutor’s Office, but their response has been basically that I get involved in my affairs, although on other occasions they allege that, as the hospital is already looking for a residence for the elderly, there is no crime of abandonment.” And the fact is that the cases that have been denounced before the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office of Santa Cruz de Tenerife have been archived, prompting the plaintiff to “reiterate her claim before the competent Investigating Court”, as collected by the documents provided by the interviewee, who has also asked for legal advice. “The lawyers I have contacted agree that crimes in this area are not clearly defined,” he says.
WHAT THE LAW SAYS
According to articles 142 and 143 of the Spanish Civil Code, “the spouses are reciprocally obliged to provide maintenance; legitimate ascendants and descendants; the parents and children legitimized by royal concession and their legitimate descendants; and the recognized natural parents and children and their legitimate descendants ”. Likewise, it points out that “food is understood to be all that is essential for sustenance, housing, clothing and medical assistance, according to the social position of the family.”
The matter in question is also regulated in the Spanish Penal Code through its article 226, which we quote verbatim below: to provide the necessary assistance legally established for the support of their descendants, ascendants or spouse, who are in need, will be punished with a prison sentence of three to six months or a fine of six to 12 months ”. And in its second section it states that “the judge or Court may impose, motivated, the penalty of special disqualification for the exercise of the right of parental authority, guardianship, custody or foster care for a period of four to ten years”.
The doctor has the inexcusable obligation to inform the Prosecutor’s Office
The president of the association of Patient Advocate, Carmen Flores placeholder image, has shown his surprise and indignation at the aforementioned figures of abandonment in the hospitals of Tenerife that, until now, he was unaware and assures that reporting these situations is the duty of health professionals and even management. “The doctor has the inexcusable obligation to inform the Prosecutor’s Office, whether he likes it or not, because it is a crime to leave a person abandoned as if he were a suitcase,” says Flores, who, in turn, refers to the responsibility of the Prosecutor’s Office for the Elderly as a “public servant”. “When there is a crime, you have to report it,” he concludes.
THE TRANSFER, “SOON”
The Minister of Social Rights, Equality, Diversity and Youth, Noemí Santana, declared during the plenary session of the regional Parliament last Tuesday that people who occupy hospital beds due to the lack of social health places could be transferred “soon”. Although Santana admitted that in 2014, 2015 and 2016 an attempt was made to find a solution to the problem, the order of the Canarian Executive was truncated at that time. “Now we have a very high consensus among the technicians” of the Health and Social Rights ministries so, as he indicated, “the order will soon be a reality.”
However, facing the abandonment of a father or mother every day, trying to make a smile, is an arduous task. The HUC doctor, who has decided to speak out for those who already lack momentum, hopes that this stealthy pain that is experienced from behind the inside will be understood “at once” by Canarian society and “stir consciences.” He is moved when he confesses that he has considered changing his profession due to the cruelty of the facts, but finally decides to persist: “I believe in the human being above all else.”