How cuts to Sweden’s social welfare state led to a wave of death in nursing homes.


Among the nearly 6,000 people whose deaths have been linked to the coronavirus in Sweden, 2,694, or 46 percent, had been among those living in nursing homes.

That tragedy is in part the story of how Sweden has, over decades, gradually yet relentlessly downgraded its famously generous social safety net, report Peter S. Goodman and Erik Augustin Palm.

When the pandemic hit, the nursing staff at the Sabbatsbergsbyn nursing home in the center of Stockholm found itself grappling with an impossible situation.

It was the middle of March, and several of the 106 residents, most of them suffering dementia, were already displaying symptoms of Covid-19. The staff had to be dedicated to individual wards while rigorously avoiding entering others to prevent transmission. But when the team presented this plan to the supervisors, they dismissed it, citing meager staffing, said one nurse, who spoke on the condition on anonymity, citing concerns about potential legal action.

The facility was owned and operated by Sweden’s largest for-profit operator of nursing homes, Attendo, whose stock trades on the Nasdaq Stockholm exchange. Last year, the company tallied revenue in excess of $1.3 billion.

On weekends and during night shifts, the nurse was frequently the only one on duty. The rest of the staff lacked proper protective gear, said the nurse and a care aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being fired. Management had given them basic cardboard masks — “the kind house painters wear,” the nurse said — while instructing them to use the same ones for days in a row. Some used plastic file folders and string to make their own visors.

By the time the nurse quit in May, at least 20 residents were dead, she said.

“The way we had to work went against everything we learned in school regarding disease control,” the nurse said. “I felt ashamed, because I knew that we were spreaders.”



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