The aged care workforce crisis looks likely to deepen, with a new survey revealing more than 75% of staff plan to leave the sector within five years.
The survey comes a week after the government called in the Australian Defence Force to assist in aged care facilities due to massive staff shortages caused by the Omicron crisis.
A United Workers Union’s poll of more than 1,000 aged care workers in South Australia and Queensland found more than three-quarters (75%) plan to leave the sector within five years.
When asked when they plan to leave, 19% said they want to leave as soon as possible. One-third (33%) said they want to leave within a year, and nearly one-quarter (24%) said they plan to leave within five years.
The result is a significant deterioration from the 2019 equivalent survey, in which almost two-thirds (63%) responded “yes” or “probably yes” when asked if they would be working in aged care in five years.
The United Workers Union’s National Aged Care Director, Carolyn Smith, said, “Aged care workers have been forced to bear the brunt of the Omicron crisis with massive understaffing, double and triple shifts, not enough PPE, not enough RATs and a failed booster program.”
She continued, “They rightly feel they have been left unappreciated as they deal with this crisis and deaths that have now occurred in hundreds of facilities.”
Ms Smith said the federal government must address the issues of low pay, understaffing and lack of respect and recognition, problems that are well documented and have been plaguing the workforce for decades.
She said the consequences of a “mass exodus” of aged care workers “doesn’t bear thinking about”, leaving older Australians without the care they need and deserve.
Staff shortages make quality care impossible
The survey found only one in five (19%) have witnessed support from the “surge workforce”, suggesting the government-promised rollout has been patchy and limited.
Nearly all surveyed, more than 90%, said they don’t have enough staff for quality care of aged care residents.
More than half (54%) of those surveyed said they don’t have enough staff to provide basic care.
One in five (20%) said they had never been supplied with rapid antigen tests at work. A further 29% said they “hardly ever” or only “occasionally” were given RATs.
My son earns the same at Hungry Jack’s
Aged care workers commenting on the survey revealed the depth of their concerns.
A new recruit to the sector revealed conditions are “out of control” in the aged care home where she works.
“This is my first job in aged care, have been employed here just over 12 months. Since then everything has been going down the hill, out of control.
“Staff are too worried about losing their jobs when they speak up, so they just leave.
“The turnover here in the last few months is ridiculous.”
Another compared the home where she works to a “sinking ship”.
“Care staff being misinformed and treated horribly was bad before COVID, but is especially disappointing and upsetting now when staff are genuinely trying to do the right thing in light of everyone fleeing a sinking ship.
“Training and planning for an outbreak is totally invisible at a care staff level [if it has been done at all] and RATs and fitted masks were only organised a fortnight AFTER a horribly managed suspected outbreak, which turned out to be rhinovirus,” they said.
Residents continue to die from COVID-19
Though thousands of residents infected with COVID remain in aged care, the numbers are declining.
In the most recent data released by the Department of Health, 4,190 residents currently have COVID-19, compared with 5,439 the previous week.
There are outbreaks in 987 aged care homes, compared with 1,176 the previous week.
But residents are still dying from the virus. So far this year alone, 652 residents have died, an increase of 119 from the previous week.
More than 190 aged care homes have now recorded deaths from COVID-19.