Last week it made headlines, on February 26th 2009 — a shocked country woke up to the news that three or more nursing-home carers, some of them qualified nurses, had used their mobile phone to film residents with dementia in a condition which was called by the involved family’s lawyer as similar to “Abu Ghraib” prison conditions. Readers, I am not going to spare you the details, so if you are not up to some sobering facts, skip the next paragraph:
The family’s lawyer on TV, describing the video (translation by me): „The door opens, the camera zooms into the room and to the soiled buttocks of an old women, lying on the floor, naked. A voice: „This is our five star hotel, we show you how our guests are looked after here, hahaha, isn’t she doing wonderfully.“
Then the voice again, to the resident: „Hey, you, say something!“. The old woman grabs a blanket, she wants to cover her modesty, realising that she is being abused, shouts „Go away, you pack”.
After another bout of giggles the camera zooms into the face of a pretty employee in her thirties. The voice again: „And here you can see the face of our wonderful nurse XY, she has now to clean up this shitty mess, and ladies and gentleman, this was the report from Paradise Road (the actual address in Zürich), see you soon again”.
The three carers were immediately sacked, they face criminal prosecution up to three years. It is currently unknown, how long this filming has been going on, some suspect, more than a year. It is also unknown if the director of nursing and the administrator had some knowledge about the incidents.
An outcry went through the country, more controls were demanded, no more mobile phones while on duty, a few doctors were interviewed about nursing (typically, no nurses were asked), they said that caring for people with dementia needs a heart, not only education, and half of the carers are „useless“. A risky statement in the face of the huge shortage in numbers and education we already face.
Some commentators mention that the system of exploiting carers produces such outcomes. Mr. Kurt Meier, the PR-trained director of all Zürich Nursing homes pulls a sad face in front of the TV camera and in a talk show, he is supposedly shocked and sad that prohibition of mobile phone use was never obeyed (and never reinforced either), he was overwhelmed, so he states, because the home is not short staffed, there is a psychologist at hand at all times, an ISO certification has been accomplished, control visits (announced) had always been perfect.
It seems that Mr. Meier had a lot of expensive measures in place, except that of a truly lived value system, which is also applied to the carers. If we lose that, I agree with Al Power from last Friday, our institutions become soulless and cruel. Or as Mills* puts it:
„Thus many of our actions are inhuman, not because of the scale of their cruelty, but because they are impersonal, efficient and performed without any real emotion“. The cruelty of the Zürich case in my opinion is the outcome of a long deterioration of organisational culture, the responsible persons sleepwalking into disaster, mollycoddled and lulled by ISO-norms, a full roster and a standby psychologist.
The good news is, a few years ago, such headlines would have left the news soon, after all, these are old people, demented. In this change of values we live in, the headlines are here to stay and hopefully help change things, as many relatives all over the country now muster up the courage and come forward with their own experiences and horror stories.
*(Apathy, Mills, C. Wright, 1959  The Sociological Imagination. New York: Oxford University Press.