Around Australia the aged care industry is having a spotlight trained on it.
From this new and intensified gaze into the sector, troubling allegations of malpractice, neglect and abuse have been rising.
Along with the families that have chosen to speak out to voice their particular experiences of neglect and worry, skilled workers who have been involved in the aged care industry for decades are leaning in to maintain a discussion on solutions and change.
Many from within the sector have begun to speak out demanding change, giving advice to the federal government and relevant MPs on measures that will likely yield positive and sustainable results.
Registered nurses and health care workers that have been on the front lines for decades are seeking to lend their experience and expertise to a government that has shown movements towards change.
The revamping that is needed in this sector has been argued to entail an overhaul in legislation and change in practice.
Jill Pringle, registered nurse with over 20 years experience in aged care and a member of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) spoke into discussion that has been headlining in the media.
She spoke of a lack of funding and qualified staff, roster cuts and unqualified carers.
She spoke of the tremendous pressure placed upon registered nurses in their work and the trend of nursing homes cutting back on registered nurses.
On one particular night shift she stated that there would usually be one registered nurse and 5 carers looking after residents.
That is a ratio of 1:125 of registered nurses to residents and 1:25 of carers to residents, how are nurses and carers meant to prioritise multiple incidents occurring concurrently?
Currently legislation states that carers employed in aged care must be ‘suitably skilled’ yet this ambiguous term is able to be interpreted subjectively from nursing home to nursing home.
Many are calling upon the national legislation to be amended, for staff to be skilled and rostered from a resident need basis. To be judged according to particular residents needs.
Jill Pringle tells of how carers were sent to work alongside her that actively did not like the elderly and did not have skills in this area.
The quality of care from these workers was understandably poor.
The NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association, General Secretary Brett Holmes spoke into this situation, ““As we see, aged care providers continue to employ fewer and fewer nurses to care for an increasing number of vulnerable residents with increasingly complex medical needs.
In a sector which has been systematically decimated with regard to staffing for more than a decade, staffing levels have now reached a critical low.”
Mr Holmes states that it is not solely a qualification problem that is rocking the aged care industry but the simple instance of chronic understaffing, “the ANMF’s National Aged Care Staffing and Skills Mix Project (the Project) demonstrates that, on average, elderly residents in aged care receive 2 hours and fifty minutes of care, almost one and a half less hours care than the 4 hours and eighteen minutes they should get every day.
The project also demonstrated that this care should be provided by a mix of nurses and carers, that is a skills mix, of 30% registered nurses, 20% enrolled nurses and 50% carers.”
It is not just a matter of improving qualifications but to improve the numbers of workers in the sector.
There may be the most highly trained nurse stationed in a facility but if they are to care for 115 residents then it is impossible to expect and sustain an appropriate level of care.
Mr Holmes articulated, “Ensuring the right number of people with right mix of skills to care for our elderly Australian is what can be delivered by mandating minimum staffing ratios and skills mix. It works in our public hospitals and in works in our child care centres”.
In the face of serious findings across numerous reviews and reports, the government is indeed the midst of seeking to bring about change.
Yet the quality of that change rests upon listening to the voices of the experts who have been professionally engaged and cared for patients in this industry for decades.
Listening to the families who have loved and cared for their mums and dads for decades.
There is little insight that can rival these.
By Amy Henderson – HelloCare Journalist