“He is the love of my life and I am his last,” she says. Every Wednesday, around 1 p.m., Stéphanie leaves work. She gets behind the wheel and drives fast. Fabrice (first names have been changed) is waiting for him in a nursing home, about thirty kilometers from Périgueux.

At 65, the former educator lives in a “closed unit” with other residents suffering, like him, from a neurodegenerative pathology. Visitation to this public nursing home is permitted from 1:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. However, Stéphanie is only free one afternoon per week. Wednesday is the only time when the couple can get together. “This is not a prison,” assures the management of the establishment. “Still a little bit! », Regrets Stéphanie who is surprised to find, some days, Fabrice locked in his room, by the staff who hold the key.

At the height of the Covid-19 epidemic in 2020, nursing homes were confined for weeks. The doors have not widely reopened since. Visitor restrictions continue. The obstacles have even increased in certain cases.

“Restrictions on the presence of loved ones”

“Several recent alerts show the perpetuation of certain behaviors, as if the crisis had made it possible to discover a previously unexploited power of the director,” attests Laurent Frémont, in a report submitted on November 14 to the Ministry of Health. The lawyer, teaching at Sciences Po, paints a dark picture of the “trauma” of thousands of families whose loved ones, “locked up” in nursing homes during the health crisis, died of grief if not of the virus. To “prevent these forced isolations from happening again”, he pleads for a “right to receive one’s loved ones, and to visit one’s loved ones”.

The measure appears in the bill “on measures to build a society for aging well in France”, adopted at first reading in the National Assembly on November 23. For the first time, a legislative text provides that the “right” to “respect” for “private and family life” of a resident of a retirement home presupposes “visiting his family and loved ones”. “It was necessary to go through the law,” says Bernadette Ojardias, vice-president of the Ehpad Familles 42 collective and other departments. The association, established in the Loire, calculates that, out of around fifteen nursing homes in Roanne and its surrounding areas, five are currently closed to visitors in the morning and evening.

The Defender of Rights, Claire Hédon, would have preferred that the law go so far as to provide for a “daily visiting right”. The institution also observes the “brakes placed on the presence of loved ones” in Ephad. It is based on testimonies received in recent months, such as that of Mrs. Z., whose father, she confides, “totally dependent, cannot feed himself”. Visiting hours (2 p.m. to 6 p.m.) prevent her from being present at meal times. The man is malnourished and has several bedsores. The establishment claims to provide him with food supplements. Ms. Z. says she “found them in the cupboard, unused”.