Jan 17, 2023

High school students fill healthcare gaps as rural aged care battles staff shortages

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A rural hospital and aged care facility in northern Victoria that hired young workers to fill major staff shortages is proving a big success.

Boort District Health Service (BDHS) started hiring local high school students and recent graduates for a variety of supervised shifts across the community’s hospital and aged care facility.

Junior staff are assisting nurses and allied health workers on the wards, serve food to aged care residents, work in reception, and help with maintenance and cleaning.

BDHS Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Donna Doyle, said the program has been a hit since its inception as a trial in December 2021 and the young staff were especially useful around the Christmas break.

“We started with four students and now we have 12 students in the program doing flexible hours,” she explained.

“It now supports the community and the health service while we are facing workforce shortages in all departments and the junior staff bring energy and enthusiasm to the team. 

“Being a close-knitted community, residents are related to these juniors or know their parents or grandparents and love to share their stories with them.”

Aspiring occupational therapist and recent high school graduate, Macy Grogan, works mostly in aged care and has learnt important practical skills which prompted her to pursue a career in the healthcare industry. 

“I love to engage with the residents and talk to them and listen to their stories,” she told the ABC.

“I have learnt to communicate with a wide range of people, which include residents, staff, families and visitors to the hospital.”

Ms Grogan’s mother also works at the hospital as an Allied Health Assistant so she has always been “around people who help people”.

“I’ve learned from what Mum does, always helping out with little jobs,” she said.

Junior staff are also breathing a breath of fresh air into the aged care facility and residents love to see the junior members of the community caring for them and spending time with them. 

Resident, Ivan Streader, said, “It is great to see our kids have this opportunity in town and I appreciate that the kids know the older community members. The earlier they start [their life], the better it will be.”

Workforce shortages are an ongoing battle for BDHS, with five much-needed full-time nurse positions still vacant after more than a year.

The facility has hired one nurse from the United Kingdom since the borders reopened, but the health service is still looking for alternatives to find healthcare workers who want to work in the rural town.

During a devastating COVID-19 outbreak in the lead-up to Christmas last year, junior staff came in to fill gaps and deliver meals to rooms in the hospital and aged care facility.

Ms Doyle said the junior staff are also learning valuable skills and understanding what it could be like to work in the sector.

“Our junior staff are keen to learn the scope in aged care sector and seek advice regarding career opportunities,” Ms Doyle said.

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  1. two of our best staff members came to us straight out of school – highly recommend it. We have been helping them with their future planning – one is heading off to be a nurse, the other a paramedic. I think when we are rural and remote we have no choice but to think outside the square

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