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'I'll see you soon!' Video calls a lifeline for Spanish care homes

VALVERDE DEL MAJANO, Spain (Reuters) - Dining tables stand empty at the Oteruelo care home for the elderly north of Madrid, where the coronavirus pandemic has obliged residents to eat meals in their rooms and substitute family visits with video-link chats on donated tablet computers.

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“Look after yourself, I’ll see you soon!” a man’s voice can be heard saying as resident Inmaculada Perez waves at the screen.

One of the world’s worst outbreaks of the virus has infected many of Spain’s roughly 400,000 nursing home residents and cut others off from their families, who cannot visit for fear of bringing infection to the old and infirm.

At Oteruelo, employees in protective suits now bring plates of meatballs for residents to eat alone at lunchtime.

“We used to come to the sitting room to eat. Now they bring us food in our rooms, breakfast, lunch and dinner,” said resident Juana Llorente. “We are not in our house, but otherwise I am not complaining,” she said.


With the spread of the virus showing signs of peaking in Spain, staff said the situation had improved, but the strain on the hospital in the nearby town of Segovia meant they could not send all patients there for diagnosis.

Lacking resources like intravenous medicine or radiography facilities, “in many cases we have given palliative care and looked after people rather than curing them because we did not know clinically what they might have,” said nurse Ana Garcia.

The video calls were introduced by local businessmen headed by Raul Vidal, who donated 50 tablet computers to 25 nursing homes and gave them free access to a videoconferencing platform.

The “Conectayayos” initiative - a play on the Spanish term “yayo” meaning “grandpa” - is supported by the local town hall and two local companies including events organiser Trackter which now works disinfecting home like Oteruelo.

Vidal says the platform, based on an interface tool freely distributed by Google, places no limits on the number of participants, unlike programmes like WhatsApp.

It requires no login details or telephone number, saving staff time in setting up accounts, he said, and is designed to resist hacking.

After a traumatic time for care homes, therapist Teresa Gallego struck a note of cautious optimism.

“It’s better now than what we have been through. Let’s hope that when there is a resurgence of the virus we can keep it under control better, and that it is not so serious,” she said.

Reporting by Susana Vera and Michael Gore; Writing by Isla Binnie; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne