Nursing homes are like society: ruined by the rule of profit

Lutte Ouvrière workplace newsletter
January 31, 2021

The revelations about Orpea, a private group that manages nursing homes in France and other countries, illustrates how the pursuit of profit plagues society as a whole.

The book written by an undercover journalist presents a shameful picture: elderly people left without care, without enough food or diapers; a permanent lack of nursing assistants, who are mostly employed on temporary contracts with monthly salaries below 1,400 euros; hygiene products and medical equipment sold for abnormally high prices to the public authorities in charge… And this is what it’s like in top notch private nursing homes, where the smallest room costs 6,500 euros per month. So you can just imagine how society treats working-class retirees!

The emotion has been so widespread that the candidates running in the presidential election have all felt the need to express their indignation. The government has announced an investigation and summoned the managers of Orpea to an emergency meeting. As if the scandal in nursing homes is anything new!

Workers in nursing homes, who have been on the front line throughout the epidemic, have been speaking out against the mistreatment of residents for years. They have gone on strike time and again to demand better working conditions, more staff and wage increases.

With an aging population and a shortage in public retirement homes, private capital has taken over the nursing home sector, supported by successive governments. For capitalists, pensioners and their bodies are a commodity like any other. They even refer to it as "the silver economy”. Taking care of the elderly has always been natural in human societies but now it has become a way of making profit.

Orpea, Korian, DomusVi and a couple of other large groups listed on the stock exchange, share 20% of the market in France. The sector is so profitable that last year Orpea paid its shareholders dividends as high as 12 or 13%. Among these firms, is the financial company founded and run by the Peugeot family. The Mulliez family also makes money in the nursing-home business. For the bourgeoisie, cars, supermarkets… or homes for the elderly are nothing but interchangeable sectors in which to invest their overabundant capital.

To develop their business, these private groups have been supported by the state. Between 2002 and 2012, when there was a surge in the construction of nursing homes and private clinics, Orpea benefited from the unfailing support of Xavier Bertrand, Minister of Health at the time, to obtain both financial support and the necessary permits.

All institutions and ministries are designed to help the bourgeoisie do business, no matter what political party is in power. As early as 2014, Claude Evin, who was in charge of the Health Agency for the Paris region, spoke out against Korian’s maneuvers to grab a maximum amount of public money. But no minister in charge of such affairs, be it under Hollande or Macron, ever lifted a finger to ensure that the stolen money be paid back.

No one is better placed than the workers themselves – from healthcare workers and accountants to storekeepers – to shed light on the numerous scandals, financial and otherwise, that occur in the nursing home industry and elsewhere. Today, all those who dare to speak out against embezzlement and wrongdoing, including union activists, are hunted down and fired, and anyone who testifies requests to do so anonymously. Well, we must abolish trade secrets and business confidentiality and impose control from those at the bottom of society!

In order to take care of the elderly with dignity, it is necessary to hire massively in public and private nursing homes, as well as in hospitals. Nursing home workers, many of whom come from immigrant backgrounds and are stigmatized by Zemmour and Le Pen, are essential. When they fight for jobs, they fight for the interests of residents, of families – they fight for the general interests of the population! In this society, workers are the ones who have the greatest sense of responsibility. So it’s the workers who should be in charge.

No one can live on 1,400 euros per month when prices are soaring. In nursing homes, and actually in every workplace, wage increases of 300, 400, 500 euros must be imposed to make up for the loss in purchasing power. No salary, no pension should be below 2,000 euros net per month. The only protection for workers who are confronted with long-lasting inflation is the indexation of their wages and pensions to prices.

None of these measures will be granted to us. They will have to be imposed by our mobilizations. This is the program for the working-class struggle that I defend in this presidential election.

Nathalie Arthaud