A simple white plastic cross marks each grave. On each cross there is a piece of paper that bears a surname, sometimes with an initial, sometimes with a name. No date of birth. No date of death. Cemetery workers placed a single plastic flower on each grave.
Here lie those who have succumbed to the coronavirus in Milan, but whose bodies have yet to be claimed.
A cemetery official, who asked that his name not be used, told me that many of them were old and had been in nursing homes. Many, he added, had no families. In some cases, the families of the dead were unable to reclaim the bodies due to the blockade.
With morgues full of capacity and more and more extinct every day, the Italian coronavirus hotspot authorities had no choice but to bury the unclaimed dead in this way. If their families come forward to claim the bodies once the epidemic ends, the remains will be exhumed and restored.
Those resting here died alone. Then again, with coronavirus, almost everyone dies on their own.
Carla Porfirio desperately wanted to be with her mother in her last moments.
Before the coronavirus epidemic, he went to visit his mother Michela, 85, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, every day in the nursing home of the Palazzolo-Don Gnocchi Institute in Milan.
When the nursing home abruptly stopped relatives from visiting their loved ones as the virus spread, Porfirio said he called every day to ask about his mother. Every day the staff reassured her that Michela was fine.
Porphyry fears that she wasn’t told when her mother first got sick. When she telephoned home on Sunday April 5, she was informed that Michela had been given oxygen and had been given morphine.
He died the following day.
“What is so tragic for those of us who have lost loved ones,” Porfirio told CNN, his voice breaking with emotion, is that “we couldn’t be close to them in their last days while they were suffering They needed the hand of their loved ones. “
At the height of the pandemic fury across northern Italy, the regional government of Lombardy asked nursing homes to make room for non-critical patients of Covid-19, to ease the huge burden on hospitals.
Porfirio said that the Palazzolo-Don Gnocchi nursing home put one of those patients in the same room as his mother and two other elderly women.
When Porfirio protested, she says that a staff member told her that the house had no choice; he was left without space.
The Palazzolo-Don Gnocchi Institute declared to CNN in a note that “starting from the detection of the first case … at the Palazzolo Institute, the Don Gnocchi Foundation has started the procedures for isolating, mapping and testing swabs on contacts exposed to the risk of contagion … All the positive cases of Covid-19 were managed according to the protocols provided by the authorities and in coordination with the same authorities. “
The institute did not respond to Carla Porfirio’s claims regarding the care of her mother.
Italian authorities are investigating a number of health violations in nursing homes for the elderly across the country during the Covid-19 crisis.
The Palazzolo-Don Gnocchi Institute believes that the investigation will show that their work was correct.
“We are confident that the brief presented by the Foundation’s lawyers at the Milan Public Prosecutor’s Office and the documents subsequently acquired by the judiciary will confirm the correctness of the Foundation’s work in the context of this health emergency,” he said.
The Lombardy regional government has told CNN not to give interviews on the “nursing home problem” due to the ongoing investigations.
At least 15 facilities have been closed and their patients have been transferred after inspections by the Italian police force – Nuclei Antisofisticazione e Sanita (NAS) – have found that many have not followed coronavirus protocols, including providing sufficient protective equipment to dedicated personnel and quarantine areas for suspected coronavirus patients.
Sixty-one people have been referred to judicial authorities. Another 157 people were fined for a total of over $ 78,500 (72,000 euros).
Like many who have lost loved ones in nursing homes due to the coronavirus, Carla Porfirio is outraged.
“It’s uncivilized,” he says. “We are in 2020 and this still happens? The images are like the Spanish flu epidemic 100 years ago. And are we in the same conditions?” she asks.
He asks for answers
Not long ago, Alessandro Azzoni claims that his 75-year-old mother Marisa was physically strong and responsive, despite suffering from Alzheimer’s. He regularly took her for walks, for ice cream, for dancing in the park.
Now Marisa is in critical condition, in vital support, in a hospital in Milan after being transferred from the Pio Albergo Trivulzio nursing home in the city.
The Pio Albergo Trivulzio nursing home has also admitted Covid-19 patients and the virus has spread.
Azzoni presented a diagram of his mother’s nursing home on his phone, based on information from doctors and nurses who claimed to have worked at home. Much of the map is colored red, showing the wards that now house Covid-19 patients.
The home is under investigation for multiple culpable homicide complaints filed by staff and relatives of patients who claim they have not protected residents and healthcare professionals from infections.
Milan prosecutor Mauro Clerici said last month that he was investigating “more than 100 dead” at home during the Covid-19 epidemic.
Clerici said the investigation would focus on “what crimes may have been committed in accordance with the current legislation applied to a pandemic”.
No arrests were made and no one was charged in the case.
A spokesman for the Pio Albergo Trivulzio nursing home declined to comment out of respect for the investigators, saying they needed to “work freely and without pressure of any kind.”
Last month, a house spokesman told CNN that “mask rules were followed,” adding that the death toll in the first quarter of 2020 was in line with that for the same period last year.
Azzoni, who founded a group that asked for a criminal investigation into what happened to the Pio Albergo Trivulzio, describes it as a “massacre”.
With an investigation, he says “we have the opportunity to completely change things, to bring humans back to the center.”
The Lombardy region represents about half of the 32,169 Italian deaths from the virus.
One of the most affected communities in Lombardy is the city of Nembro, at the foot of the Alps.
Of the 87 residents in Nembro’s main nursing home, the Nembro Nursing Home Foundation, 34 died of the virus.
While law enforcement authorities will not comment on whether the house is under investigation, its director, Barbara Codalli, told CNN that there are no allegations of wrongdoing against the house which she says has never welcomed any Covid patients.
As soon as the staff realized that the virus had spread in the house, Codalli said: “We decided to close the structure to the families and close the kindergarten, even if at the moment we didn’t know what was really going on, but with the feeling that something extraordinary was happening. ”
“We started using PPE, masks, not easily because finding them was difficult, we found them at absurd prices,” he adds.
However, the house was overwhelmed by the virus, which according to Codalli has seriously affected his staff, killing his president and one of his doctors.
He blames the provincial health authorities for being late in testing nursing home residents.
The regional government of Lombardy, which oversees the health authorities, did not comment citing the ongoing investigations.
Barbara Codalli notes that when the first cases became evident in the third week of February, it took weeks for the swabs to be made.
“The first swabs were made on April 10,” he says, “regardless of what some said on television.”
The mayor of Nembro, Claudio Cancelli, confirmed to CNN that the first swabs, from the most seriously ill patients at home, were taken starting from 10 April; says tests on all staff and remaining patients only started on April 23.
In Nembro, we looked for death warnings, but found only two recent ones. We called a funeral home to ask where we could find more. The undertaker explained that the municipality of Nembro had removed all but the most recent ones, to avoid damaging the morale of the city.
Mayor Cancelli confirmed that death notices had been removed, but denied that there was an official order to do so in order to strengthen citizens’ spirits. He insisted that the decision was based on common sense, adding that if that improved morale, he would be satisfied.
A series of warnings were found next to the Nembro cemetery in early March showing that five elderly men and women had died within three days – March 7-9.
The funeral is finally taking place again in Nembro as the blockade in Italy subsides.
“A tsunami has overwhelmed us”
Giacomo Boffelli, 84, died on 11 March. Friends and relatives were finally able to greet two months later, during a simple ceremony near the entrance to the city cemetery.
Her daughter, Nicoletta, read a statement. “We never abandoned you. We will never do it, because you will always be in our hearts.”
Giacomo’s widow, Margherita, sat and listened, the mask covering her nose and mouth moist with tears.
After the ceremony, while Giacomo’s ashes were placed in the family tomb, Nicoletta said to me: “The woman who works here at the cemetery says that before this part was empty and now it is filling up”.
In fact, fresh images mark the tombs of the deceased recently. Honors and tomb seekers are the busiest people in Nembro now.
“It was as if a tsunami had overwhelmed us, especially older people,” says Nicoletta.
Spring has come to Lombardy. In the cities of the region, people venture out to enjoy the weather and their first hints of freedom as the blockade subsides.
Yet unlike other parts of Italy where the toll of the coronavirus was lighter, in Lombardy a pinch of pain is suspended in the air.
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