Several Finnish cities have stopped sending senior citizens to nursing homes run by the company Esperi Care due to severe, long-standing deficiencies in the quality of the firm's services.
Service sector watchdog Valvira said on Friday that at least one elderly resident is suspected to have died due to the company's negligence.
According to the Regional State Administrative Agencies for Southern and Western Finland, Esperi Care staff members without medical licenses have administered medicine; the company's nursing homes have been dirty and in disrepair; and nurses have even abused their elderly customers by arbitrarily commanding them to bed or not letting them visit the outdoors.
Inspector general Päivi Vainio from Southern Finland's administrative agency said that the most critical problem with the company's services is that not enough staff members are on call for the number of elderly patients.
For instance, the operating license for Porvoo's "Vuokko" nursing home requires there to be 0.58 staffers per customer. In truth only one worker routinely has to account for some 30 customers.
"If you have a unit with 30-40 residents who need toilet assistance and only one nurse there, that means diapers. You might imagine what that feels like," Vainio said. "This is a question of safety, when a nursing home fails to deliver around-the-clock care."
Nursing homes in Porvoo, Muurame, Lahti, Kristiinankaupunki and Vantaa have cut off ties to Esperi Care facilities in the past; while in some cases the standards of nursing units were raised enough for the city to change their minds, Porvoo and Kristiinankaupunki continue to boycott their local facilities, whose directors claim their problems have been fixed.
Problems with Esperi Care were first noticed in 2017, when Vainio's Administrative Agency performed an unannounced inspection that uncovered the poor quality of care in Porvoo. Seven "Vuokko" employees have resigned from the centre and 14 time-limited contracts have lapsed since 2016.
Esperi Care CEO Marja Aarnio-Isohanni said in a release on Saturday that she regrets the fact that the company's administrators have not taken the critical reports seriously.
"We are extremely sorry and this has been a learning experience. We will fix these problems at once," Aarnio-Isohanni wrote. "We will hire more personnel. We will make hourly workers full-time employees and improve our admin practices."
Aarnio-Isohanni was Finland's second wealthiest woman in 2017, earning more than 5.7 million euros that year.
Legislative chief Vappu Okkeri from the Union of Health and Social Care Professionals (Tehy) said Saturday that private nursing homes have far more serious problems with quality of service than institutions run by a city or municipality.
"The problems with Esperi are the worst,though similar negligence also occurs in other conglomerates such as Attendo and Mehiläinen," Okkeri said. "The real reason is an unhealthy culture of competition. Municipalities try to make savings by outsourcing their elder care, but businesses need to make profit, so the vicious circle is complete."