The French government has called for a "flash investigation" into the severe mismanagement of several homes for the elderly, following separate inquiries that found the Orpea group in charge of the residences was guilty of grave neglect and fraud.
Brigitte Bourguignon, Minister Delegate for Personal Independence, announced on 26 January that she wanted to investigate the management of the Orpea Group of nursing homes, demanding “explanations”.
Her remarks were triggered after French daily Le Monde published fragments of the book Fossoyeurs (Gravediggers), which exposed the deterioration of some of Orpéa's outlets, part of the French system of "establishments for dependent elderly people" or Ehpad.
Author Victor Castanet claims in an interview with BFMTV that he was "offered €15 million to not continue his investigations" into the malfunctioning elderly homes, but he refused.
Orpea was already in the crosshairs of another investigation that reveald the for-profit nursing house company had been using "irregular employment contracts" at its outlets in France.
According to information uncovered by Investigate Europe nd the news site Mediapart, "recruits have to sign fixed-term contracts that indicate that they are replacing employees with permanent contracts".
But in many cases, researchers found these permanent employees did not sppear to exist.
When questioned Orpea denied any irregularity, stating there had "never been any fictitious employment within the company".
Disinterest and neglect
But the revelations from Gravediggers will draw most of the public interest.
The book describes how rooms, with starting prices of some €6,500 per month – six times the Ehpad's average – lacked basic hygiene, how patients were neglected, with some "having to wait hours in their own excrement before being cleaned".
According to the book, meals are rationed, bedsores overlooked, clothes and other posessions "dissapeared", while people suffered unnessesarily because of general desinterest.
“If these facts are proven, they are extremely serious and we condemn them, says Bourguignon, while Health Minister Olivier Véran, asked about the subject at the National Assembly, said that "authorities owed the truth to families, caregivers and residents.
Nursing care stocks plummet
Once the accusations became public, Orpea shares dropped more than 16 percent, pulling the share price of similar groups with them. The Korian group lost over 14 percent, and LNA, another company running Ehpads, lost some 5 percent.
For its part, Orpea has denied the allegations stating in a press release: "We formally contest all of these accusations, which we consider to be false, outrageous and prejudicial.”
The group added that its lawyers would "set the record straight".