In June, the government set a September 17 deadline for all residential aged care workers to have received at least their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Nearly 80% of the workforce has so far received the jab, however, a small snap poll on HelloCare’s Aged Care Worker Support Group on Facebook showed 9% of aged care workers surveyed plan to leave the sector over the issue of mandatory vaccines.
After speaking to several who said they planned to leave the sector, a common theme emerged – aged care workers have been pushed to their limits and this is the last straw.
One heartbroken aged care worker we spoke to said she left her workplace without saying goodbye to the residents because she was so upset over the matter.
The enrolled nurse from regional Queensland, where there are no COVID-19 cases, said she was already struggling under a heavy workload, due to the fact there are no registered nurses on site at most times and with the added burden of complying with COVID-19 restrictions.
The addition of mandatory vaccines was the straw that broke the camel’s back – she decided to leave. Her last official day will be September 17.
“I couldn’t jump through any more hoops,” she told HelloCare.
Four other staff at the home will also be leaving ahead of the mandatory vaccine deadline.
Susanne acknowledged her leaving will add to the burden on remaining staff.
“I feel terrible,” she said as the tears flowed.
This evidence of staff leaving the sector comes as the government’s 2020 Aged Care Workforce Census, released today, shows the sector is already facing high rates of staff turnover.
Aged care facilities reported that 29% of their direct care workforce left their employment between November 2019 and November 2020.
Shockingly, among nurse practitioners and registered nurses, 37% left their employment over the period.
Aged care facilities reported 9,404 direct care vacancies at the time of the census, mostly for personal care workers.
Almost half of the facilities reported at least one PCW position vacant. The average number of positions vacant was five.
To address the issue of staff shortages, the government has this week allowed workers in Australia on student visas to work additional hours in aged care.
“This is going to have a huge impact on residents”
Penny* also plans to leave the sector over the issue of mandatory vaccines.
“I am aware that approximately 10-20 staff will be stood down on September 17 or resign,” she told HelloCare.
Many we spoke to denied they are ‘anti-vaxxers’, but said there are elements of the vaccine they don’t agree with.
“I will not be part of an experiment,” one aged care worker told us. This was a common theme.
“No one should be mandated to take an experimental shot where one of the side effects is death,” said another.
Others suggested the vaccine had not been adequately tested.
There was also confusion about how the vaccine worked.
“Given the vaccine doesn’t stop you catching or spreading the virus, the residents are no more at risk from the unvaccinated,” one aged care worker told HelloCare.
Another said she had noticed a “decline” in the residents she cares for, and wondered if it was a result of the vaccine. Lockdowns may also have had a detrimental effect, she suggested.
“Leaving with a heavy heart”
Many of the aged care workers we spoke to had had long careers in the sector, during which they had endured low pay, hard physical work and a generally disrespecting public.
Even so, they believed they were making a difference and that they were making the lives of the residents better. They loved the residents and enjoyed their work.
But the mandatory vaccines made them feel disrespected and disenfranchised. The only way for their opposition to be heard was to leave.
“I am leaving with a heavy heart,” one aged care worker shared with HelloCare.
*Names have been changed.