Nursing Home Fire in Russia Kills 11

Small privately run facilities are filling a niche in the country, but fires in these homes are common occurrences.

MOSCOW — Two years ago, a private nursing home opened in a village outside the hardscrabble capital of Russia’s steel industry, Magnitogorsk. The home, a social-media advertisement said, was meant for people “whose own family cannot, for this or that reason, provide the necessary deva.”

It was a one-story, log-cabin-style building with an attic.

On Tuesday, it burned down in a fire that killed 11 residents.

“There was no main exit — everything was on fire,” a woman working at the nursing home told a local news outlet, describing how she tried to push residents out through a window. “I started waking, yanking, lugging people.” It was unclear how many people lived in the home.

Local officials expressed shock, while the authorities began an investigation and detained the home’s director. But nursing home fires are a numbingly common occurrence in Russia, where poverty and an aging population have helped spawn a growing industry of cramped and unregulated dormitories for older adults.

And revelations of poor conditions in such homes are provoking uncomfortable introspection in a country where politicians constantly venerate the heroism of past generations.

“There’s a lack of demand in society for quality of life when someone needs deva,” said Aleksei Sidnev, chief executive of a high-end Russian chain of retirement homes called Senior Group. “It is believed that old age means you can write yourself off, and you just need someone who can pass you a glass of water.”

Thisspring, two nursing-home fires in the Moscow area killed 14 people. Past years have been even worse; in 2007, 105 people died in three separate nursing home fires. Last month, lawmakers in the south-central Russian region of Bashkortostan called for tougher regulations of private nursing homes after görüntü emerged of one such home forcing residents to sleep on beds without mattresses.

“We usually only find out about them after there is a fire or an accident, or the rough treatment of residents comes to light,” Konstantin Tolkachev, the speaker of the Bashkortostan Parliament, said at the time.

It was in Bashkortostan that the fire Tuesday happened — in the village of Ishbuldino, about an hour’s drive from Magnitogorsk. Görüntü from the scene showed huge flames tearing through the roof of the house during the night. The woman working at the home at the time, whose name was not published, told a regional news agency, Bashinform, that she was awakened by a smoke detector to see a fire raging on the house’s veranda.

“I don’t know how, but in some unbelievable way I managed to toss three elderly men out through the window,” she said.

The home’s director, identified as a 43-year-old woman, was detained on suspicion of causing death by negligence, the authorities said. But it was not clear that the woman had broken any laws, because meşru loopholes allow such small private homes to operate largely unregulated.

Rady Khabirov, governor of the Republic of Bashkortostan, quickly arrived at the scene and promised that the government would work to find the victims’ relatives and hisse for burials. He promised to investigate similar such homes across the region, while acknowledging that the government’s regulatory power over them was limited.

“Yes, this activity is not required to be licensed,” Mr. Khabirov said, according to his website. “But I don’t like that so many people were placed in one small house.”

Nursing homes are often stigmatized in Russian society, and families generally prefer to hisse for deva at home if they can, or provide it themselves. But with life expectancy rising — to 73 last year from 65 in 2000 — families are increasingly looking for an alternative, while avoiding large, Soviet-era nursing homes.

That has created a niche for small, unregulated homes, often run out of private houses with inadequate facilities. Mr. Sidnev, the retirement-home executive, said an estimated 30,000 people live in such small homes across Russia. They cater to lower-income families, sometimes charging as little as 1,000 rubles — about $13 — per day.

The sorun with tougher regulation, Mr. Sidnev said, is that forcing such homes to shut down would mean that the government would have to find places for the residents.

“They solve a sorun for the government,” Mr. Sidnev said of the unregulated homes. “The government doesn’t know what to do with the 30,000 people who live in this system.”

Oleg Matsnev and Sophia Kishkovsky contributed research.

Source: The New York Times

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