For a fortnight, his phone has not stopped ringing. His inbox is totally overcrowded. And the mail flows in packets to his office located in the seventh arrondissement of the capital. Maître Sarah Saldmann, lawyer at the Paris bar, now lives to the rhythm of the twists and turns of the Orpea affair. In turn, she too found herself on the front line after the publication of the shocking book by journalist Victor Castanet, The Gravediggers (Fayard), January 26, which denounces serious failures within the global giant of retirement homes.
“Dozens of families of residents contacted me, in a few days, to testify to facts relating to mistreatment and to ask me to help them”, says the lawyer, who had already been working since 2020 on several files targeting Orpea, in particular in Boulogne. -Billancourt or Neuilly-sur-Seine (Hauts-de-Seine). Complaints from families whose parents’ stays in these nursing homes have, after a few months, systematically resulted in hospitalization.
600 reports against Orpea, 500 against Korian
After the release of the book, the government launched two investigations – one administrative, the other financial – on the whole group, which manages 354 establishments in France and whose new CEO, Philippe Charrier, appointed in disaster to demine the crisis, strongly denies the charges. But Sarah Saldmann is determined to bring the families’ fight to justice. It collects all the reports it has received, in order to launch collective action against Orpea in March or April. “It is not a class action in the American way because each complaint remains autonomous, she specifies. The idea is to file them simultaneously to mass against Orpea. Otherwise, if everyone launches their procedure on their side, the group will simply send them a standard letter.
In the process, Sarah Saldmann planned to attack Korian, the other giant of Ehpad (364 establishments in France), against which she has already received an avalanche of testimonies reporting similar facts. Faced with the indignation of politicians and investors, the group defends itself through the voice of its leader, Sophie Boissard, who surveys television sets to dissociate her company from the Orpea scandal. The third private player, DomusVi (250 establishments), is also not immune to the determination of the pugnacious lawyer. “His name is starting to pop up in the flood of calls we get, admittedly maybe only two to three times a day, but every day nonetheless.” Heard by the National Assembly’s Social Affairs Committee on Thursday February 17, Sarah Saldmann said that she had received around 600 reports against Orpea, 500 against Korian and 39 against DomusVi. These are, she explained to the deputies, “testimonies of people wishing to file a complaint as well as anonymous testimonies”.
Read also: Orpea changes boss after the shocking revelations of a book-investigation
Testimonials all damning
The list of charges is long. Manslaughter, deliberate endangerment of another’s life, failure to assist a person in danger, or negligent violence. According to Sarah Saldmann, the situations are very varied, but the testimonies are all overwhelming. “They describe serious negligence: patients who are left in overflowing diapers, who are locked in their rooms, who are deprived of care or food”, she says, in a flow machine gun, as if not to dwell on the “horrors” of each file. Especially since these reports are often supported by chilling photos that, despite her strong character, the 30-year-old young woman admits to having difficulty in supporting.
“When you pay for the room between 4,000 and 6,000 euros per month, you could expect the services of a palace”, bangs Sarah Saldmann. Desperate and angry, his clients, “well-to-do families, are not interested in the money, but want their status as victims to be recognized so that these practices stop”. Starting with resolving the malfunctions of the monitoring of alerts and controls of private nursing homes by the health authorities and the public authorities. “Inspecting establishments once every eight years, and warning before, this is called a courtesy visit”, tackles the lawyer.
Read also“Sadness and despair”: the testimonies of families of people in nursing homes
First weapons against Tesla
Sarah Saldmann is aware of going to war against much bigger than her. Nothing to intimidate him. On the contrary, this daughter of a famous cardiologist has honed her skills in the office of one of the “tenors” of the bar, master Olivier Pardo, with whom she did her end-of-studies internship. Before creating, from the beginning of his career, his own firm dedicated to family law and criminal law. Then to go to the front in a very sensitive case: the accident of a Tesla vehicle which left one dead and 20 injured in Paris last December. Sarah Saldmann defends the taxi driver indicted and placed under judicial supervision, and while the investigation continues, scratches those who immediately refute the thesis of a technical problem with the car, such as the Minister of Transport Jean- Baptist Djebbari.
Tesla, Orpea or Korian, same fight. For the one who aims to “make justice accessible to the general public”, and who also published a book for this purpose last summer (Everything to defend yourself! My rights, instructions for use, ed. Robert Laffont), multinational companies must face up to their responsibilities: “That’s enough, these methods of the 1950s which leave us alone against all!”