Freedom of movement in nursing homes: the testimony of the Petits Frères des Pauvres in France

The French association Petits Frères des Pauvres, concerned to be the voice of the people accompanied in nursing home and of the volunteers who accompany them, decided to collect and share their words, to testify of their lives in this so particular period. The data collected and a certain number of proposals were then sent to the French Minister for Autonomy, within the framework of a working seminar on the freedom of movement in nursing home.

Since the lockdown last March, some nursing homes have never really re opened, others closed their doors again in September. While the press regularly reports on this, the association has found it necessary to hear the views of its local teams in order to know their points of view and the reality of the situations they encounter. The questionnaire collected 76 testimonies concerning 205 nursing homes.

They first noted that the health crisis has led the elderly people living in nursing homes to abandon their vacation plans (63%). In the majority of cases, it is the nursing homes that refused to allow them to leave (34%), limited them to a day trip or imposed lockdown in a room for fourteen days on their return (8%), which had a dissuasive effect on the residents. Sometimes it was the teams of volunteers themselves who thought it preferable not to offer a stay this year.

To the question “Have you noticed any changes in the people accompanied in connection with the confinement period from March to May 2020? ” the volunteers answered:


However, to the question “how have your visits been going since June 2020? “the answer is “quite well” in 47% of the concerned nursing homes. Links are maintained as much as possible, mainly by telephone, even if a few visits – very supervised – may take place.

To date, 135 of the 205 nursing homes concerned by the questionnaire have decided to lockdown again the residents. Several establishments invoke the precautionary principle and volunteers are often unaware of the duration of this closure.

What the older adults living in nursing homes have to say:

  •  “You have to die of something.”
  • “It is from isolation that I will die.”
  • “I’m going to pass away if this goes on too long. Not talking to the volunteers anymore, it makes me sad, being in my room, not seeing my next-room neighbor, not eating in the refectory, it’s too hard.”
  • “If I didn’t have my religion, I would kill myself…”
  • “I don’t care about dying, all I want is to be able to talk to my friends.”
  • “It’s too long and too sad.”
  • “I would like to go out and return to a home where I have my freedom.”
  • “Before Covid19, I was lonely, now I really understand loneliness, the real thing.”

Alerts made by the volunteers:

  •  “In one department, several people were tested negative because they had been in contact with a caregiver who was tested positive. They stayed in their room for 7 days and tested negative once more.”
  • “They are faced with a fait accompli and suffer from not being able to participate in collective activities.”
  • “Many residents felt deprived of their freedom, in prison, deprived of their rights.”
  • “For some residents, we are the only link with the outside world, we try by phone to make them laugh, play games and, above all, reassure them”.
  • “I accompany a gentleman who can no longer express himself verbally. Before the confinement, it took me some time to create a bond of trust. He had become very attentive to my proposals (listening to songs, illustrated books that I read to him…). After weeks of absence, I noticed that he was more in denial than before. Has he felt a sense of abandonment? It is possible… »


The French association wants to remind that the nursing homes are places of life and that any restriction of freedom must be proportionate. Also, the Petits Frères des Pauvres is against the decisions to close nursing homes as a preventive measure (without a suspicious case of Covid19 ).

The proposals of the Petits Frères des Pauvres to the Minister for Autonomy:

  • Allowing the elderly to express their preferences and choices
    • And in particular: make it mandatory to hold an information meeting for all residents, collect their questions, fears, etc.
  • Allowing family and friends to stay in touch with their elderly loved one, in an ongoing dialogue with the institution.
  • Recognizing visiting volunteers as significant persons
    •  In particular: do not restrict visits to families only.
  • Garanteeing the freedom of movement of the elderly as much as possible, by putting in place means of rapid detection of the virus.
  • Maintaining a collective life within the nursing home
  • Guaranteeing the respect of users’ rights


Find here the results of the survey and the detailed proposals of the Petits Frères des Pauvres to the Minister Delegate for Autonomy (in French): Liberté d’aller et venir en EHPAD enquête et proposition


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