ROME, -- Amnesty International demanded Friday a parliamentary inquiry into the COVID-19 deaths at Italian nursing homes, and reports of retaliation against staff who voiced concerns about their unsafe conditions.
Amnesty's findings were based on interviews with 34 workers in the health sector, union leaders and lawyers. In a Friday statement, Amnesty stated that a third of workers had "raised concerns over a climate of fear or retaliation at work," according to a human rights watchdog.
Like other European nursing homes, Italy's saw thousands of COVID-19-related deaths. Prosecutors in dozens of jurisdictions are investigating whether any criminal charges should be laid.
It was the first West European country to be badly affected by the outbreak. The region of Lombardy, in particular, was hit hard. Many residents of Lombardy's elder care facilities were not allowed to go to the hospital during the initial surge.
Amnesty also stated that some employees of nursing homes who complained about the lack of protective equipment, or raised concerns about unsafe working conditions, were subject to disciplinary proceedings.
Amnesty cites the case of Pietro La Grassa who was a union representative at Milan’s Pio Albergo Trivulzio nursing facility, which is Italy's largest.
After La Grassa, a few doctors and employees raised concerns about the high number of deaths in the outbreak, Italian prosecutors launched a criminal investigation into Trivulzio's home. Managers had advised them not to wear masks in fear of disturbing residents, which management refuted.
The Happiness Association, representing the families of Trivulzio victims, announced Friday that they would file a motion against the request of prosecutors and ask for a judge's rebuke. They stated that there was enough evidence to warrant a trial.
Alessandro Azzoni (head of the group), stated in a statement that "We relatives refuse not to get an answer to these fundamental questions of justice." "The decision to dismiss the proceedings would be a failure in the search of truth and sanction the inequity of the Italian legal system."
Amnesty International's Italy office published a report entitled "Abandoned" last year. It claimed that the Italian authorities had violated the human rights and dignity of residents of nursing homes in three of the most affected regions, Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna, and failed to protect their right of life and health.
It is not possible to estimate the death rate among elderly residents in Italian senior care facilities. Residents weren't tested at an early stage and COVID-19 suspected deaths aren't included in Italy's official count. According to the national Superior Institute of Health, at least 9,154 people died in nursing home from February through May 2020. However, this was based on partial responses of 25% of Italy's 4,600 nursing homes.
Amnesty's request for a parliamentary investigation follows a July decision by lawmakers to severely limit the scope and focus of a parliamentary inquiry into the pandemic. It will only look at the events that occurred before Jan. 30, 2020 when the government declared an emergency and suspended flights from China. The Italian inquiry will not examine the outbreak in Italy and how it was managed here since the first locally-transmitted case was confirmed in northern Lombardy in February.
Last week, victims' relatives launched an online petition asking Parliament to reconsider its original scope for an inquiry into the causes and actions of the outbreak and the World Health Organization.
Apart from this, Codacons, a consumer rights group, has been collecting data on relatives of elder care home residents who have died and has given the information to the prosecutors. The relatives of those who have been affected by the cases could be included in the civil part of the prosecution if they ever go to trial.