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HEALTH

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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TRAVEL NEWS

Paxlovid, tests and isolation: Covid care for tourists in France

With travel opening up, many people are planning trips to France over the next few months, but the Covid pandemic has not gone away. Here are your questions answered on testing, isolation and medical treatment if you do fall sick while on holiday.

Paxlovid, tests and isolation: Covid care for tourists in France

Travel rules

Covid-related travel rules have mostly been relaxed now but you will still need to show proof of being fully vaccinated at the French border. If you are not vaccinated you will need to show a negative Covid test – find the full breakdown of the rules HERE.

Testing

Once in France if you develop symptoms or you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive you will need to get a Covid test.

The good news is that testing is widely available in France, both for residents and tourists.

The easiest way to get a test is head to a pharmacy, most of which offer the rapid-result antigen test on a walk-in basis Tests are available to everyone who wants one, there is no need to fulfill any set criteria.

For full details on how to get a test, and some handy French vocab, click HERE.

The difference for tourists is that you will have to pay for your test, while residents get their costs reimbursed by the French state health system.

In the pharmacy you may be asked for your carte vitale – this is the health card that residents use to claim refunds. As a tourist you won’t have the card – you can still get the test, you will just need to pay for it. Costs vary between pharmacies but are capped at €22 for an antigen test or €54 for a PCR test.

Isolation

If your test is positive you are legally required to isolate, but how long your isolation period is depends on the your vaccination stats – full details HERE.

Treatment

For most fully-vaccinated people without underlying health conditions the symptoms of Covid are fairly mild, but if you do become ill, here’s how to access medical help while in France.

Pharmacy – one of the first things you will notice about France is that pharmacies are everywhere, just look out for the green cross. As well as selling over-the-counter medication, pharmacies all have at least one fully-qualified pharmacist on the staff who can offer medical advice. 

Take advantage of pharmacists – they train for at least six years so they’re very knowledgeable and they’re easy to access by simply walking into the shop. In tourist areas it’s likely that they will speak English. Pharmacists can also signpost you to a nearby doctor if you need extra help.

Doctors – if you need to see a doctor, look out for a médecin généraliste (a GP or family doctor). There is no need to be registered with a doctor, simply call up and ask for an appointment if you need one. If you have a smartphone you can use the medical app Doctolib to find a généraliste in your area who speaks English. You will need to pay for your consultation – €25 is the standard charge and you pay the doctor directly using either cash or a debit card.

You may be able to claim back the cost later on your own health/travel insurance depending on the policy.

Ambulance – if you are very sick or have difficulty breathing you should call an ambulance – the number is 15. All non-residents are entitled to emergency treatment in France, whether or not you have insurance, but if you are admitted or have treatment you may need to pay later.

READ ALSO Emergency in France: Who to call and what to say

Paxlovid – several readers have asked whether the Covid treatment drug Paxlovid is available in France. It was licenced for use in February 2022 and is available on prescription from pharmacies, mainly for people with underlying health conditions or an impaired immune system. You can get a prescription from a medical practitioner.

The drug is reimbursed for French residents, but as a tourist you will have to pay.

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