France: MSF launches emergency appeal to recruit medical personnel

Staff will fill urgent gaps in nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic

France 2020 © Agnes Varraine-Leca/MSF

Paris, November 10, 2020—The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has launched an emergency appeal for medical and paramedical professionals to help care for dependent seniors in residential homes in France, with an initial focus on the Paris region. MSF aims to set up teams of doctors, nurses, and psychologists to reduce the burden on the most vulnerable facilities and strengthen the provision of medical care.

Since spring, significant headway has been made to help nursing homes cope with COVID-19, by ensuring access to testing and personal protective equipment. Local health authorities and management and staff of nursing homes are geared up to respond to the emergency, while the government, in a show of support, has announced plans to recruit 12,000 health workers for hospitals and residential homes. However, in many homes there is a glaring shortage of staff—particularly medical. Increased personnel is  essential to compliance with health protocols, ensuring that residents receive dignified care adapted to their specific needs (whether they have COVID-19 or not),  liaising with hospitals and, when necessary, providing end-of-life support.

MSF is launching an appeal to recruit doctors, nurses and psychologists. The organization will coordinate a pool of emergency personnel to be made available to residential care homes reporting the most urgent needs.

In some cases this will involve increasing the provision of medical and nursing care, and in others, giving technical advice, for example, on how to contain the spread of infection or organize visits from families.

“We will continue to offer staff and residents psychological support, and, when necessary, provide medical equipment so that patients with breathing difficulties can have access to oxygen therapy, for instance,” said Jean-Hervé Bradol, medical doctor for MSF’s program in nursing homes. “Although our program will focus initially on the residential homes we’re in contact with in the Paris area, we’re already exploring how we can extend our support to other regions.”  

Applications to join MSF’s medical teams in residential care homes for the elderly are available at:

MSF has been working in 56 residential homes since April 2020. In July, the organization began offering training and discussion groups to prevent mental health and social issues for care home workers who had lived through the first wave of COVID-19. MSF also provides support with improving the management of wellness and mental health care for residents.

In the course of its work, MSF teams have seen the dire situations endured by residents and staff, often left to fend for themselves.

"The distress and exhaustion felt by some staff exacerbate the structural difficulties facing the care home sector,” said Olivia Gayraud, coordinator for MSF’s program in nursing homes. “As hospitals become increasingly overstretched, it is both vital and urgent that homes be given the personnel they need to be able to give their residents the appropriate care."

Personnel at these facilities experienced traumatic events during the first wave of COVID-19 that they fear will be repeated as cases climb in France, said MSF. Due to a shortage of medical staff during the first wave, it was sometimes impossible to secure admission of sick residents to hospitals. Some care assistants have reported that they were left alone at night with just a telephone for support to manage complex medical cases for which they had no  training. They have recounted instances when they lacked appropriate medical equipment as they tried help residents who agonized from lack of oxygen,

"Manifestations of psychological trauma, anxiety, visual and auditory flashbacks, as well as somatic pain, such as weight loss and sleep disorders, are examples of the after-effects we frequently hear of from care home workers we meet in the course of our work," said Marie Thomas, psychologist for MSF’s program in nursing homes.

More than 40,000 people have died as a result of COVID-19 in France since March 2020, including more than 12,500 in residential homes. As the epidemic spreads across the country, it is urgent to support the care home workers already weakened by the first wave and enable them to provide the best possible support to the residents.

From April to June 2020, MSF supported 30 residential homes housing more than 2,000 elderly people in Ile-de-France, by providing medical care to residents, protective equipment and, technical support, with a focus on infection prevention and control. In July 2020, a mental health support program was launched in 34 residential homes, including training and psychological support for residential home workers. To date, 188 staff have benefited from this program. MSF also assisted the elderly and staff working in nursing homes and long-term care facilities in other countries such as Belgium, Italy, the United States, and Spain.