French government summons retirement homes chief over care scandal

A new book has alleged that residents in upmarket retirement homes in France, run by the Orpea group, are left for days on end in soiled underwhere as managers seek to maximise profit. The government is demanding answers.

A retirement home run by the Orpea group just outside of Paris.
A retirement home run by the Orpea group just outside of Paris. A new book alleges widespread neglect of residents in such institutions in France. (Photo by ALAIN JOCARD / AFP)

The French government said Thursday that it had summoned the director of a major retirement home operator to appear for questioning over allegations of patient abuse and hygiene negligence at its sites.

Sparked by the publication of “The Gravediggers” this week, the scandal has drawn widespread condemnation from officials and calls for inspections of the upscale Orpea homes by the authorities.

The book, by independent journalist Victor Castanet, cites employees and relatives claiming that residents are at times left for hours with soiled underwear or go days without care as managers seek to maximise profit margins.

Orpea has contested the claims as “untruthful, scandalous and injurious”, but said it had asked two independent firms to evaluate them.

It also denied a claim by Castanet that he was offered €15 million by an “intermediary” to drop his investigation.

Jean-Christophe Romersi, the group’s managing director for France, where it operates around 350 of its nearly 1,200 homes worldwide, was called by the minister in charge of the elderly, Brigitte Bourguignon, to appear on February 1 over the “grave accusations.”

“It will be the chance to hear Orpea’s explanations on several matters, which will be the focus of in-depth inquiries by state authorities,” Bourguignon said in a letter to Romersi.

In particular she asked for details on Orpea’s policies on hygiene and food supplies as well as its “financial practices.”

Orpea has seen in market value cut in half on the Paris stock exchange since Monday, when French daily Le Monde published parts of “The Gravediggers” ahead of its release Wednesday.

It is currently the top seller among books sold by Amazon France.

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Attempted cyber-attack delays healthcare reimbursements in France

If you feel that you have been waiting longer than normal for your latest healthcare reimbursement, this might be due to attempts to hack La Poste.

Attempted cyber-attack delays healthcare reimbursements in France

Since April 27th, French postal service company, La Poste, has temporarily suspended external access to its messaging service. This has impacted more than 20,000 health professionals who rely on the service to communicate reimbursements to Social Security.

Healthcare in France works on a reimbursement system – you pay the doctor or pharmacist upfront and then some or all of the cost is reimbursed directly into your bank account using your carte vitale health card.

Usually the reimbursement takes just a few days, but the suspension of the La Poste messaging service means that requests for reimbursement have not been getting through.

So far La Poste has not provided a date for full restoration of its services, although it says it hopes for a partial restoration by next week.

After noticing that cybercriminals were trying to access it, the organisation temporarily deactivated access to its external platforms, including for the tens of thousands of people who use e-mail address.

When trying to send electronic forms, healthcare workers are instead met with error messages. There is also a paper form which can be used instead, but the electronic version typically shortens the wait for reimbursements.

Patients who are waiting for reimbursements do not need to take any action, but should be aware that the reimbursement might take longer than normal.

La Poste has confirmed the problem, saying “this measure has been taken for security reasons” and that it will be “for an indefinite period.” They asked that users access their accounts by going directly through La Poste’s website or its downloadable application.

La Poste also says it is “aware of the particular difficulties encountered by health professionals” and assures users that they are prioritising the restoration of services for them specifically.

They hope to see a gradual restoration of services from next Monday, but full restoration will take several days.

So far, La Poste has not reported any successful hacks or data leaks to French data protection agency, CNIL.