‘Just curious … how many people have left aged care recently?’

Aged care workers leaving the sector

More than 300 members of the group responded, with more than one-third revealing they too have exited the sector, and dozens saying they are on the verge of packing it in.

Frustrated aged care workers said they were “over it”, “broken” and “tired”, they were being “worked into the ground” and tired of not being “appreciated”.

The work environment is “toxic” and the work is “heartbreaking”, they said.

Several revealed that mandatory vaccines were also a reason they were leaving the sector.

Many took decades of experience with them, including a high-care dementia staff member of 42 years and many with more than 20 years’ experience.

One worker with nearly 30 years’ experience said workloads had become “unrealistic”, meaning the residents’ needs are not being met – this was one of several stories about the negative mental health impacts of working in aged care. This former aged care worker doesn’t see herself ever going back.

‘It’s sad for residents’

Ms Lowe, a former aged care worker, is acutely aware of the challenges aged care staff are facing. She left the sector and now works for a lawn mowing business.

She believes aged care staff must put their own emotional and physical health ahead of all else – even if that is at the expense of residents.

“It’s so sad for the residents,” she wrote, “but you really need to prioritise your mental and physical health … before you do any permanent damage.”

Ms Lowe told HelloCare she wrote the post because she knows of a lot of people who have recently left aged care and are thinking about leaving, especially now considering the hardships brought on by COVID-19.

“I know AINs and PCAs were always tired of being short-staffed and not getting the appreciation they deserve,” she said.

Ms Lowe said another problem for aged care workers is the overwhelming administration burden, when there is already not enough time or staff to deliver care.

Ms Lowe often had only herself or one other staff member to care for 55 residents at night. 

“It’s impossible,” she told HelloCare.

She believes the managers put on the “bare minimum” of staff to save money. 

“I’m really angry they can get away with it,” she shared.

“I feel really sorry for the residents and staff.”

Residents missing out on meals due to short staffing

The exodus of staff is occurring as tens of thousands of staff are being furloughed, due to either having COVID-19 or being a close contact.

The latest data showed there are currently 1,198 aged care homes experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak, 44% of all homes in the country. Most of those homes will be in lockdown – meaning 7,800 residents are being kept in their rooms.

Professor Kathy Eagar, Director of the Australian Health Services Research Institute at the University of Wollongong, told the ABC she is hearing of a “sense of absolute desperation” in the sector. 

She said “there just aren’t enough staff at the moment”. Those who are still working are “trying to do the best they can”.

“Nobody working in aged care would ever want a resident to miss getting a glass of water, to keep them hydrated or to miss a meal. But unfortunately, that is exactly what’s happening, and it’s not the fault of the staff.”

Ms Eager said staff ratios are due to come in in October, but there are not enough staff to fill all the roles and minutes of care required.

“We need more staff,” she said.

“We need incentives for staff to stay working in this sector … unless we address those systemic issues, we will never make aged care safe in the way that it needs to be safe.”

In line with the royal commission’s recommendation, Eager believes aged care staff need to be paid more. She believes the government, not providers, must fund the increase.

“The government needs to provide extra funding to pay for staff salary increases,” Ms Eagar told the ABC.

The government is offering 37,000 positions for free aged care training, but Ms Eagar says that won’t solve the sector’s problems. 

“We can train as many people as we like, but if they hate the job, once they get there, and they’re not valued and remunerated properly, they won’t stay.”

Life beyond aged care

Members of the support group exchanged information about careers they had been able to transfer into from aged care. 

Many had swapped from residential to home care, and some had gone into disability. 

Medical administration, hospital nursing and childcare were also fields where former aged care workers had been able to find employment, sometimes with further training.

Some switched from permanent to casual in aged care, and found it more flexible and rewarding. Some left, only to find they missed it and soon returned.

Ms Lowe was the only one who had gone into lawn mowing.

What will it take?

To the aged care workers who remain in the industry, Ms Lowe said, “Hats off to you all. You don’t get the credit you deserve.”

To those like her who have chosen to leave, she is understanding. 

“Well done for getting out and looking after your mental and physical health,” she said.

Aged care workers shouldn’t have to feel “guilty” for wanting to feel appreciated and not running themselves “into the ground,” she said.

Ms Lowe wonders what it will take for the government to make it worthwhile for aged care workers to remain working in the sector. 

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  1. My partner has left aged care due to the reasons above,stress of short staff, exhaustion, and burnt out. He has 10 years of valuable experience, now gone. I myself am a dementia degree graduate again with 10 years experience, time is near for me to leave soon too. It’s so sad but the human body can only take so much.

  2. My mother passed away on 25 January 2022. The aged care system is broken – decision makes so far removed from teh reality if the aged and families. Families can provide care and support to assist staff in the boundaries of the COVID to alleviate their stree. The recent passing of my mother and the restriction in place for a dying person is incomprehensible let alone those who are not dying and don’t udnerstand why their family can visit. My mother’s dying wish was to see her 8 grandchildren and this was denied – even though rapid antigen testing was available this was still denied. This is not something I will ever come to terms with and now need counseling and mental health support to move forward with reconciling.

  3. I am curious as to “why” the Government should be subsidising the Non-Government Aged Care Facilities staff wages? My fear would be that the Service Providers would somehow manage to profit from that just as they do with the delivery of Home Care Packages. If an NGO can not afford to operate and maintain an Aged Care Facility to an acceptable standard, then why are they permitted to do so?

  4. Kerry, it’s staggering how you presume to make comments when you clearly have no idea on how aged care in Australia is funded.

    Every facility is funded whether it’s private or charitable, where would the operating capital come from otherwise? Aged care has only one client..the government..and homes care for the customers of that client.
    In residential care the “customer” decides the income of the Home.
    Clearly you are inclined to believe the rubbish that is the Media’s fodder about Homes “taking old peoples homes” etc but please have a look at how that happens. By the way this was thrust upon the sector by the government. Briefly, if a client has a home or money the government insists that they contribute to their own care.. That money sits in the bank until you leave the facility and unless YOU the client has spent some of it YOU get it all back!
    It is absolutely no advantage to a facility to have $500k in a bank account at 1% earning $5k when a fully supported client attracts an accommodation income of nearly $20k per year.

    1. This was just a question…, families and care staff don’t need to know how a provider rans a business. They don’t need the media to see that their loved ones are not given the required minimum care.
      I am just wondering why we hear so little from care providers and site managers? It seems like they all doing ok until something gets out in the public.
      I left the sector after the first year of Covid. When paperwork and documentation to “cover you back” became more important than a concern that a residents needs are not met. Every question and every concern is labeled as a complaint.

  5. It’s not covid that’s the problem our wages need increasing we need more staff and incentives the private sectors get a huge bond and take all Thier pension then the residents expect us to be at Thier Beck and call and family members complain that we are not doing certain things with Thier family it goes on to work in a supermarket you get more money and no hassles it has not changed in 25 years 1 worker to 5 would be ideal not 1 to 15 it’s impossible.

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