(26 July 2023) Earlier this month, the Romanian state attorney's office confirmed horrifying accusations of abuse and exploitation in privately run care facilities. The reports first emerged in February, when investigative journalists from Centrul de Investigatii Media and Buletin de Bucuresti detailed the mistreatment of care home residents who were denied adequate food and medication, subject to violence and forced to work without pay.
On July 4, almost six months after the reports first emerged, the Romanian prosecutors, anti-organized crime agency (DIICOT) and the police led several raids on nursing homes and elderly care facilities in Bucharest and other cities. The perpetrators include two criminal gangs and one private company that had received large sums of public money to care for elderly residents. However, the money was not used to provide care, and files from DIICOT show that residents were forced to hand over their pensions and transfer their properties to those running the homes.
Ovidiu Vanghele, one of the investigative journalists that first published the story explained that Romania did have quality assurance mechanisms for the social care system, but the rules were bent, allowing for a rapid increase in privatisation and the establishment of profit-oriented centers that took public funds without providing any actual care.
The original story also accused an entire network of people of protecting the perpetrators from checks and inquiries, including high profile politicians such as the former Family Minister, Gabriela Firea. Firea’s husband, Florentin Pandele, is the long running mayor of Voluntari, a town where some of the homes are located. Her brother is head of the authority that supervises the local social services. Both Firea and Pandele have denied any knowledge of what was happening, but Firea has since stepped down from her position as minister.
More reports of abuse and exploitation in the care sector
Reports were also published this week of abuse and exploitation in the UK care sector driven by gangmasters. A BBC story explains how migrant care workers were recruited through agencies in their home countries, and provided with health and care visas to foreign workers issued by the UK government in an effort to address the labour shortages. Once in the UK, these workers were made to work illegal hours and paid well below the minimum wage.
Investigators in the UK trying to protect workers from being exploited say the care industry has gone from "not being on their radar" to becoming a "top priority".
Both scandals emphasise the need for tight regulation of the care sector, adequate inspections and quality assurance mechanisms, as was called for in the 2022 European Care Strategy. The Care Strategy, including a European Council Recommendation on Long-term Care, should assist in preventing such abuses by involving the trade unions in the care sector. EPSU supported the position of the European Parliament for an early implementation which was rejected by Member States like Romania.
The scandals also demonstrate the need to invest in accessible and affordable public care services and to improve pay and working conditions for care workers in order to address the care gap. Without this, the vacuum is left to gangs and profiteers to exploit, with horrific results for both residents and workers.
More details on the Romanian scandal
More details on the UK scandal
More on scandals in for profit care and EPSUs position on the care strategy