“I’m curious: Does anyone’s facility have any ADF working with them yet?”

ADF training for aged care
Private Jessica Fitzsimon said she is looking forward to helping the aged care sector. (Image: A Current Affair).

Aged care workers are still struggling to deliver care to elderly residents amid severe staff shortages while nearly 1,000 nursing homes grapple with Omicron outbreaks.

So dire are the circumstances that Prime Minister Scott Morrison reversed his earlier opposition to sending in troops to help, announcing on Monday that a defence force “surge” would come to the sector’s aid.

Up to 1,700 troops will be used to “help stabilise outbreaks and support staff shortages”, he said.

An initial four ‘Quick Response Support Teams’ – each consisting of 50 military staff including registered nurses, medical technicians and general support – will be sent into aged care homes in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia this week.

Next week, the number of teams assisting will expand to 10.

Fifteen military planners will help the Department of Health manage the rollout of defence force support in aged care.

Troops will help with screening people entering homes, providing company to residents, helping with meals and other “non-direct care functions”, Mr Morrison said.

Defence force staff with medical qualifications will help in that capacity, he said.

Last weekend, defence force staff underwent aged care induction training with healthcare provider Aspen Medical. They began working in the sector that afternoon.

Former New South Wales premier Mike Baird, now chief executive of aged care provider HammondCare, last week said defence forces were needed in aged care because the sector is facing a “perfect storm” of increasing numbers of infections and staff shortages caused by the need for staff to go into isolation.

Defence support has been “awesome”

The social media post asking members of the support group if troops had been in their aged care home to help attracted more than 60 comments.

Several of those who commented said troops have been helping, with one saying the support has been “awesome”.

They have been assisting in all areas of operations, including the kitchen, laundry and with cleaning.

Most of the aged care workers who commented had not seen troops in their aged care home. Official ADF data as of Tuesday showed there were only 129 defence personnel on the ground, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

Sources have told The Sydney Morning Herald that many aged care operators had not been told how to apply for ADF workforce support.

Mr Morrison has warned that defence personnel won’t be able to fill all the gaps in aged care, and indeed today a large aged care provider has confirmed that it will close another two aged care facilities in New South Wales, leaving 40 residents to find a new home.

Aged care workers share a military background

While some aged care workers worried residents might be frightened by the sight of troops in their home, many who commented revealed they had previously been in the defence forces themselves, and they said troops have much to offer aged care.

“There was so much more to the ADF than soldiers with weapons. I think it will be a real eye opener for families and other civilians to see what more the army has.”

One aged care worker who commented recalls how thoroughly she was taught to clean during her time in the defence forces.

The military are trained for “success under extreme conditions” so working in aged care will be a “picnic” for them, she said.

During her basic army training they were instructed to “dry wipe the sink to perfection” or risk their whole platoon getting extra drills and duties.

The lessons she learnt remain with her to this day. 

“Today, at 65 years old, I still completely dry wipe my sinks,” she said.

Residents share military background

Many residents would have served in the defence services themselves and enjoy the opportunity to engage with troops.

“I’m sure a lot of the residents … would love a chat with a fellow soldier,” pointed out one member of the support group.

Many members of the defence forces volunteer in aged care after they leave, providing an understanding ear for former soldiers, she said.

“Many soldiers who have retired from the army do volunteer work in aged care facilities. 

“They often sit with the elderly who have had service and they understand the jargon. 

“I have spent many an hour with the elderly discussing the Vietnam war and how they were treated when they got back,” she said. 

Knowing that their carer also served creates a bond, she said.

Being able to use military language with a resident living with dementia who had been in the armed forces was helpful when she was interacting with them, she said.

“I was in a dementia wing with a man who had served and I could use the right jargon, ‘stand down soldier’, ‘let’s go to the head’ [military for the toilet] and ‘let’s go to the RAP’ [that is army jargon for the medical centre]. 

“Once I could speak to this man with dementia in his language he became a lot easier to deal with,” she revealed.

Rural areas struggling to find staff

One member of the support group who commented on the post works in a rural aged care home. 

She said they are in the middle of a COVID-19 outbreak and staff are working 12-hour shifts due to short staffing and the number of residents with the virus. Defence forces haven’t come to their aid yet, she admitted.

More than 56% of rural and regional aged care homes are already operating at a loss, according to aged care accountancy specialists, StewartBrown.

Now an activities coordinator, this member of the support group was resuming her former role as an assistant in nursing to provide the assistance needed. 

It’s “so much harder to find extra staff” in rural areas, wrote the post’s author. 

“It’s rural areas that need the assistance the most,” she observed.

“I feel for you all. We had an outbreak, both staff and residents, it was terrible,” she said.

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  1. Hi just feeding back about staffing issues. I returned to SA. I have applied for 20+ positions. Interviewed for 2, unsuccessful supposedly many applicants, is the only feedback given. Another not what they are looking for nothing from the test. It’s laughable . Go to Agency and get double the pay. What can I do

  2. Too late. I was working with 2 pcas to 56 residents with no other help. Thanks for nothing Scott Morrison.

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