Vatican Decries ‘Massacre of the Elderly’ in Nursing Homes During Pandemic

Vincenzo Paglia
Marvin RECINOS/AFP via Getty Images

ROME — The Vatican is urging a paradigm shift in care for older people while decrying the “massacre” of the elderly from the coronavirus, chiefly in nursing homes.

Noting that more than half of Italian deaths from the coronavirus occurred in nursing homes, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia said Tuesday in a live-streamed press conference that the coronavirus deaths have been “brutal in their cruelty” and constitute “a real massacre of the elderly.”

“Data from some countries — for example Italy — show that half of the elderly victims of Covid-19 [coronavirus] came out of institutions and residential care homes, while only 24 percent of overall deaths concern the elderly who lived at home,” said Archbishop Paglia, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

“In short, 50 percent of the deaths occurred among the approximately 300,000 nursing home residents while only 24 percent happened among the 7 million elderly over 75 who live at home,” Paglia observed.

The archbishop made these comments during the roll-out of a position paper by the Pontifical Academy for Life that proposed reconditioning home environments to better meet the needs of people as they age, rather than rushing them into institutions.

“In every country, the institutionalization of the elderly in nursing homes has not necessarily guaranteed better conditions of care for elderly people, especially those who are weaker,” Paglia said. “A serious rethinking is needed not only in relation to residences for the elderly but for the entire care system of the numerous elderly population that today characterizes all societies.”

Citing research from Tel Aviv University, Paglia highlighted the direct proportional relationship between the number of beds in nursing homes and the number of elderly deaths.

“This proportion remains the same in each country: as the number of beds increases, the number of victims in the elderly population also increases. I don’t think that’s a coincidence,” he said.

In its paper, the Pontifical Academy for Life made a similar point, noting home care during the pandemic has proven far better than institutional care.

“During the first wave of the pandemic, a considerable portion of deaths from Covid-19 occurred in institutions for the elderly, places that were supposed to protect the ‘most fragile part of society’ and where instead death affected disproportionately more than the home and to the family environment,” it said.

The head of the European Office of the World Health Organization said that in spring 2020 up to half of coronavirus deaths in the region occurred in nursing homes, calling it an “unimaginable tragedy,” the paper noted.

“From the comparative calculations of the data, it can be seen that the ‘family,’ on the other hand, under the same conditions, protected the elderly much more,” it said.

“We need a new vision, a new paradigm that allows society to take care of the elderly,” it declared.


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