Moral lessons from residents, close relatives and volunteers about the COVID-19 restrictions in Dutch and Flemish nursing homes

Philos Ethics Humanit Med. 2023 Sep 6;18(1):12. doi: 10.1186/s13010-023-00140-w.


Background: During the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, national governments took restrictive measures, such as a visitors ban, prohibition of group activities and quarantine, to protect nursing home residents against infections. As 'safety' prevailed, residents and close relatives had no choice but to accept the restrictions. Their perspectives are relevant because the policies had a major impact on them, but they were excluded from the policy decisions. In this study we looked into the moral attitudes of residents, close relatives and volunteers regarding the restrictions in retrospect, and what moral lessons they considered important.

Methods: We conducted 30 semi-structured interviews with residents and close relatives and one focus group meeting with volunteers working in nursing homes. Data were transcribed verbatim and analyzed inductively. Subsequently, three Socratic dialogue meetings with residents, close relatives and volunteers were organized in which first analysis outcomes were discussed and dialogues were fostered into moral lessons for future pandemics. Outcomes were combined with moral theory following an empirical bioethics design.

Results: Critical perspectives regarding the COVID-19 restrictions grew in time. Various moral values were compromised and steered moral lessons for our future. The participants recognized three moral lessons as most important. First, constructing tailored (well-balanced) solutions in practice is desirable. Second, proper recognition is needed for the caring role that close relatives fulfill in practice. Third, a responsive power distribution should be in place that includes all stakeholder perspectives who are affected by the restrictions.

Discussion: Comparing the results with moral theory strengthens the plea for inclusion of all stakeholder groups in decision-making processes. To further concretize the moral lessons, tailored solutions can be realized with the use of moral case deliberations. Proper recognition includes actions addressing moral repair and including counter-stories in the debate. Responsive power distribution starts with providing clear and trustworthy information and including all perspectives.

Keywords: COVID-19; Close relatives; Moral lessons; Nursing homes; Residents; Restrictive measures; Volunteers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Ethnicity
  • Humans
  • Morals
  • Nursing Homes
  • Volunteers