Jan 18, 2018

“I wanted to complain, but who would listen?”

Hello. I am sharing my experience with you today as a wife, mother, daughter, and granddaughter.

I was a Personal Care/Support Worker for a decade in community, disability, and aged care services, and am now an Enrolled Nurse.

I have worked in nursing homes across Adelaide as an agency worker, and was employed as a “permanent casual” staff member for a year in one home.

I have always loved working with older people, they have a wealth of knowledge, and many are so lonely and loving that they will quickly come to consider you as a part of their family.

I have formed many lasting and important bonds as a care worker, and I’ve been with people of all ages and stages – from beginning their transition into living with a new disability, to their final days of life providing comfort and companionship.

I consider myself very privileged and though there have been many challenges in my career, from unsteady work (I was a casual for all those ten years), very low pay and a lot of unpaid overtime, lack of adequate training for many situations I was placed in, and a very lacklustre support system through all levels of industry, I have never faltered in my desire to continue studying to become an aged care nurse.

I joked with my friends that one day I would open a nursing home as a side business, and take all my elderly clients and patients in for free to take care of them – but I could truly see myself doing that.

That is, until I was doing my work placement for my nursing diploma in an aged care facility.

When I finished, I was employed as a personal care worker with the very strong possibility of gaining a job as a nurse when my studies were finished.

I was over the moon. I couldn’t keep the smile off my face when I turned up to work each morning.

Sadly, this did not last long. I became buried in red tape and politics, on the bottom rung of the hierarchy my voice was ignored, and my job was never safe.

I saw wonderful, caring people who were being ground into unthinking machines who merely went through the motions of providing care to vulnerable, mentally incompetent people.

People who had even less of a say in their care than I did. I saw families who were racked with guilt at putting their loved one in care.

Why do people feel that way? Why do people say things like “I’d rather kill myself than go into a nursing home when it is my time?”

Because they know that aged care has big problems, problems that no one seems to know how to fix. I saw clearly that profit was becoming more important that people, and how people were moulded to fit the system that loudly proclaims that it is all about person-centred care.

There are places that provide incredible care, but they still struggle from underfunding, from rigid rules that don’t recognise that people are not compatible with one size fits all style care planning.

They still hire under-skilled staff and they still have a save a buck somewhere – usually on staffing. The rules – or lack of rules – allows for this.

Changing the rules is where we come in. People pay a fortune for care, for nice rooms with ensuite bathrooms, Wi-Fi, and decent food, like booking into a fancy hotel for a few weeks instead of a home they’ll live out the rest of their lives in.

The glossy brochures do not paint the full picture of the reality of life within an institution – because that is what high level aged care is.

Time management is the ruling principle of aged care. Like a call centre salesperson, or a factory worker, an aged care worker must cram as much into a shift as they can – but there is no quality control inspector.

They are not creating or selling products, they are providing care for people. Very quickly those same people become tasks on a long list that must be ticked off by the few staff who are allocated to look after them.

Nursing homes operate at warp speed – can you imagine the standard of care provided by two staff who need to get thirty or more people up, dressed and fed by 9am?

Some of these people are totally dependent. They cannot express their wishes. They cannot protest. They do things when the allocation sheet allows them to, not when they want. Not even the most idealistic of people can pretend that each person gets all their care needs met with such stingy rostering.

How can a nurse, even considering many medications are pre-packed, be certain that they are following all their rights of medication administration for so many people in such a short time? It is not a production line, it is people and their lives. It is scary.

Please, understand that most staff want to give more choices, to provide the best care for everyone, every time – but unfortunately there are just not enough free hands to properly allow for this.

Time is the most precious commodity in aged care, and dividing yourself equally among all your residents is impossible. I was good at time management, I could get all my tasks ticked off by the end of a shift.

But if I had to apply reflective practice like I do as a nurse…I’d have reflected that if that was my grandmother, I’d be dissatisfied.

That hurts me to say like you wouldn’t believe. I did not neglect people, but I didn’t do the best I could either. I’d have never left work if I’d been giving them my best, there wouldn’t have been enough minutes in the day.

I wanted to complain, but who would listen? The system is not governed as well as it should be.

You can report physical abuse, but can you report a home for providing the bare minimum staff when it is well within the rules? Can you report a lack of resources that are categorised as non-essential because they are not covered by the funding instrument? What does it take for a home to fail to gain accreditation?

If a place like Oakden in SA can pass muster, what reassurances are there that other homes out there are not just as bad, or worse – but no one has spoken out yet?

I have moved on from aged care in my career, but I feel like I am not finished. I need to try to make changes happen that I told myself I did not have the power to make before, when I was trapped in the system too.

I am ready and willing and I am joined by some wonderful friends. Together we have started a campaign calling for changes based on a recent Senate inquiry, and some other proposals we have developed ourselves. I hope that you will join us.

Our campaign is bipartisan. It is nation-wide. It is being supported by staff, families and people within aged care facilities, and people who face the prospect of someone they love, or even they themselves going into a system they don’t trust, a system they are afraid of, a system full of flaws and failures.

We have been gaining signatures at a rate that has surprised us. We are hearing from people all over the country who want change. Our senior citizens deserve better.

You can read our petition here: https://www.communityrun.org/petitions/urgent-aged-care-reform

We intend to present it to various people within South Australia before the 2018 election, mostly because that is where we all live.

We hope it will then travel further, from state to state and to the people who have the power to make change.

We are willing to go as far as we need to, to get it done. We want people like you to read the stories people are sharing with us.

We want you to take those stories to the people you work with, and push for the changes in legislation and funding that are so sorely needed. Please help us.

What do you have to say? Comment, share and like below.

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  1. This is so sad. It is now 2021 and nothing has changed. What a wonderful person you are. You are exactly the sort of person who we would all love to be cared for in our twilight yrs. Thank you for being there for all those dear souls and for being a humanitarian.

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