Nurses turn their back on aged care as pressures mount

Recruiting and retaining aged care staff has been a challenge for the sector for years. Now the pandemic has magnified the issue, with nurses taking their considerable skills elsewhere in the healthcare sector, where the pay is better, there is a different cohort of patients, better ratios, and the media scrutiny is less intense.

“Health professionals and carers have been under great pressure during the pandemic,” Leading Age Services Australia CEO, Sean Rooney, told HelloCare. 

The situation has been most intense in Melbourne, where there have been more than 2,000 COVID-19 cases in aged care homes, and more than 700 residents have died.

The pressure of caring for frail and vulnerable people has been magnified by COVID-19 and the sector has also received harsh media attention for more than two years due, firstly, to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety and, more recently, to the pandemic.

This mounting pressure is causing nurses to leave the sector in worrying numbers. LASA is aware that nurses are taking annual leave to “try out” other areas of nursing.

When nurses leave, aged care homes face not only the cost and difficulty of finding a replacement, but there is also the loss of the valuable knowledge they take with them.

Aged care is focused on care 

LASA is supporting members who are concerned about the pressure aged care workers are under, Mr Rooney said.

It is “imperative” that both aged care organisations and Australian communities support residential aged care, he said. 

“People need to understand that the sector is focused on care and compassion, always, and highlight its importance to communities and the nation,” Mr Rooney said. 

“By improving Australia’s understanding of this, we will be better placed to hold decision makers to account to deliver the aged care system that meets our elders’ needs.” 

It is “critically important” we have strong numbers of health professionals to provide the quality clinical care that older people need and deserve, Mr Rooney said.

“We also have to ensure there are links with the entire health system because we know the importance of the interface between aged care, primary care, acute care, social services and mental health.”

Nurses key to quality care

So, what can be done to encourage nurses to stay in aged care?

Opportunities for aged care nurses, such as the opportunity to advance to managerial roles, must be highlighted, said counsels assisting in their final recommendations to the royal commission. This was also one of the recommendations of the Aged Care Workforce Taskforce.

Better pay is also a key factor. The counsels assisting said pay must increase to “better reflect their value and contribution to delivering care outcomes”.

Ensuring that enough nurses are on site could also alleviate some of the pressure on this vital workforce. Aged care academic Professor Kathy Eagar, of the University of Wollongong, says the “mix” of staff, including how many nurses are on site, is one of the key drivers of aged care quality. The royal commission is also recommending the introduction of a requirement that at least one nurse be on site at all times in aged care homes. At yesterday’s Victorian budget, the Treasurer said $40 million would be spent on training more nurses and personal care workers to help private aged care providers introduce minimum staff‐to‐resident ratios.

Aged care organisations must nurture staff

“There is a great deal we can do as organisations to nurture the recruitment and retention of good talent in aged care,” says Benetas’ CEO, Sandra Hills.

“The people in our sector are incredibly passionate and driven by their deep commitment to those who they care for”. They are the “backbone” of their organisation, she said. 

Benetas has developed a ‘People Plan’ to help it take “tangible steps” towards becoming a “great place to work”. It kicked off with a ‘listening tour’ this year to help the organisation find out what really matters to its employees. 

“To all those working in our sector, I say thank you, what you do matters, every conversation, small gesture and ongoing familiar interaction you provide, matters. It matters to our residents, to our clients, to their families and it matters to our community. Never have we seen that more true than this year,” Ms Hills said.

Mr Rooney said LASA is working with the sector to try to restore confidence and provide support.

Change is on the wind in aged care. The royal commission’s final report, due in February, has the potential to be “transformative”. Let’s hope their proposals address the issue of nurses leaving the sector, but also that sensible reforms follow.

Share your story. Are you considering leaving the aged care sector? What changes would you like to see that might encourage you to stay?




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  1. “LASA is supporting members”!!!
    What a lot of bloody rubbish, the associations have sat and achieved zero for facilities over the last five years. They continue to refuse to take the fight to the government and demand action. Despite the entire sector struggling to deliver services there has been virtually zero real representation.
    The Royal Commission isn’t going to magically fix the funding crisis, they won’t show the government something they don’t already know, a December 1 recommendation from the RC seems to be ignored.
    Incredible damage has been inflicted on our sector and its largely gone unchallenged.

  2. I would be excited to see a realistic resident to carer ration. This would provide more time for the compassionate one on one interactions that Carers try to provide.
    Trying to recruit is the hardest issue we face…people do not realise what a great career it could be.

  3. I like you letter to Santa with your wishes for presents for age care workers but what is likely to be forthcoming is either an apple or an orange – hence the reason we are leaving in droves.

  4. Totally agree with Anton I worked at approximately 100 different Aged Care facilities since 1999 as a RN. The best one was a small 30 bed family run facility, the best staff the best care. Eventual closed as 30 bed not viable and new consumers wanted the hotel style facility.. When that closed I went from facility to facility looking for that dream job, a place where the care was good and I would enjoy working there.
    Not to be I lasted anywhere from1 shift to 4 weeks I left because of burn out and impossible work load. The good ones ( and there are very good ones )rarely advertise as Nurses do not leave the good ones in a hurry I have been in a Mental Health job since May which I love . I have a patient load of 4-5 Yes it can be very busy but manageable Why would I go back to Aged Care and administer anywhere from 20 to 45 meds, wounds, Doctor rounds etc etc going home 1-2 hrs late They need more EENs and RNs to share the workload.

  5. You just do not get it. Professional nurses abandon aged care because they are unable to practice professionally. One qualified nurse for 80 residents! As the Royal Commission demonstrated the best care is provided by State Government aged care facilities because they are staffed appropriately and not profit driven. After my initial graduation I undertook a gerontic certificate so that I could work in aged care. My dream was soon abandoned because of the inability to provide clinical care due to staffing and the budget! The budget bottom lines is about profit margins. Some time later I worked as a DON in three nursing homes and could only see conditions and abuse of human rights getting worse. It would be cheaper and more effective for people to be cared for in their own homes with the current funding redirected fully to people’s care.

  6. I am not surprised by this. But not only nurses. Managers, and staff at all levels of small stand alone providers are leaving the sector in droves. Take one look at Stewart Brown’s reports and you clearly see provider numbers dropping off in large numbers year on year.

    I predict the aftermath of COVID-19 in 2021 and beyond will see an accelerated decline in provider numbers, to the point where in a few years, only huge “Mega” providers will remain.

    Diversity in provider types, which included small, local community focussed providers, like the one I have worked proudly for the last 12 years has provided a balance. Large providers have the economy of scale to have “strong, corporate level business systems”, and they usually do this well, but they simply cannot provide the intimate level of personalised care that small, not for profit stand alone providers can. Conversely, small providers are not nearly enough equipped to take on corporate level management of large scale changes and systems, as COVID-19 has seen, and of course the incredible amount of government requirements and regulators thrust on us.

    This is a very sad time for us all, and at least for me, this has shown us that government, regulators, and to some extent peak bodies either cannot or will not provide tangible support to enable the most vulnerable of us to thrive in an environment of blame shifting, finger pointing and political point-scoring.

    It therefore comes as no surprise that good quality people are leaving the sector. With things the way they are and no prospect of things getting better for providers, who would want to stay?

  7. Aged Care Industry has for many years told nurses to toe the line, Bullying, Intimidation etc, has been en bedded in the sector. They dare not say anything or complain, shown the door if you do and the unions Hospital nurses, never really bothered much with their Aged Care nurse cousins.
    Private and Not for Profit Organisations appear to have been given a free pass from previous Governments especially when it came to accreditation (look the other way) they have shown very little respect to their workforce. Poor training, under staffed and at times poor management
    Now they start blowing their own Trumpets, the Grandstanding starts, let hope Royal Comm makes a difference and allows dedicated staff to continue giving the great care that most provide.

  8. “excited to see a realistic resident to carer ration. This would provide more time for the compassionate one on one interactions that Carers try to provide.”
    What a croc of poo. Most aged care providers do the best they can with the limited resources available.
    Aged care Nursing staff want to be paid hospital wages but don’t want to do the amount of work hospital nurses do. Aged care and hospitals are not the same work place with no where near the same work load.
    Aged care nurses just want more pay for no more work done.
    And this croc that if there was more nursing staff the staff would spend more time actually with the clients is nothing but union propaganda rubbish. As soon as the cares are done the staff are straight back to the nurse station amongst them selves. Lets face it it not the number or aged care staff in Australia its the type of Australians who are working as nurses in aged care. They are working in aged care for all the wrong reasons.
    I have no answers to the problems in aged care but can tell you first hand that the problem starts with the type of people who are currently employed in aged care. Its all about me me me and nothing to do about the actual care of the elderly.
    Stop the BS Australian aged care nurses and either start caring for our elderly or change your profession and we’ll get more Indian and Filipino nurses in that actually want to work and do care for the elderly.

  9. I agree with you completely.
    Staff Ratios mean nothing if ‘numbers’ are filled with unregulated workers/carers.
    I, too, worked in a beautiful, old-style Nursing Centre in the mid 1980’s. It was a small, privately run facility, with far more RN’s than Care workers. We still had wards – 6 beds for the very high care and 1, 2 & 3 bed rooms for the low care resident. It was such a beautiful environment. Very caring, and everyone (staff and residents) was treated like one big family. The RN’s worked 6 hour shifts and all shifts overlapped. That was a great job, and everyone seemed happy to be at work.
    One RN on shift in a Facility is laughable, and so very dangerous….. that is more Status Quo than an improvement

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