May 20, 2024

Open Letter from Former Aged Care Nurse: Why I Fell Out of Love with the Industry

Open Letter from Former Aged Care Nurse: Why I Fell Out of Love with the Industry
From touching stories of residents to the systemic issues that drove her away, Vicki’s candid account provides a rare glimpse into the realities of the industry. [CoPilot].

Hi, my name is Vicki. I started working in aged care at the age of forty after leaving my job at a pie factory. I began at the pie factory as a sixteen-year-old and stayed there until I realised there was more to life than packing pies.

I earned a diploma in Business Administration but soon found that wasn’t the right fit for me. I’m a people person who loves talking, helping, and learning about others, which led me to become an extended carer in aged care.

One of my teachers from my diploma course noticed me working in a facility where she had placed her mother. She smiled and said, “This is where you belong,” and I never looked back.

In aged care, you learn so much about the people you care for. I met a lovely lady who made dresses for Wallis Simpson and another who was friends with the Von Trapp family that escaped the German occupation. People said it was hard work, but to me, it felt like being paid to play and enjoy what I was doing.

I eventually became a nurse and decided to stay in aged care because you get to know the residents as well as your own family. We are guests in their homes, and we respect their wishes. Unfortunately, aged care residents and staff often become just numbers, which is so wrong.

There is a side of aged care that many people don’t see because we keep a smile on our faces no matter how we feel. Some people are in aged care because they want to be there, while others see it as just a job. Some staff treat residents like children, which is deeply disrespectful.

For instance, I once had a resident crying at the table because she wanted a drink. When I gave her one, a carer yelled across the room that she couldn’t have a drink until she ate her lunch. I responded that she is not a two-year-old but an adult who deserves respect.

Another time, a resident in a fallout chair asked a carer to take him to the toilet, but the carer said not until after lunch. I asked the carer if she could eat her lunch if she needed to use the toilet, and she admitted she couldn’t, so I told her to take the resident to the toilet.

When you care about your job and the people you look after, other nurses might accuse you of trying to be popular with the residents. But I never worried about what people said about me. I loved seeing the residents’ faces light up when they saw me, even those with dementia.

Returning from holidays or days off and hearing a resident say, “Thank God you’re back,” made it all worthwhile.

Unfortunately, there is so much nastiness and bullying in this job. Manipulative people are the worst bullies because they get others to do their dirty work. When you report bullying, the bullies often find out and turn others against you.

The last facility I worked at felt like home to staff, residents, and their families.

I loved going to work, often doing double shifts not for the money but for the residents. However, the atmosphere changed, and I no longer looked forward to going to work. The company changed, and I started advising people not to work there or in aged care at all because it became toxic.

The breaking point for me was working an eight-hour shift with an agency nurse without any breaks, while a kitchen girl lay on the floor in pain, ignored by the care manager. At the end of the shift, I was called into the office over trivial matters.

I had to fill out a reflection form but refused, stating I would never return.

I used to look after thirty-six people with two carers getting nineteen up and one care getting eighteen up. I often had time only to say good morning while administering pills. If someone seemed unwell, I would return to spend time with them after finishing my rounds.

The lack of funding and respect from the government and companies is to blame. These people helped shape our country, yet they are treated as numbers, not humans.

I planned to nurse as long as I could, but the aged care system and the government made me give it up. Now, I live on a carer’s pay to look after my husband. I miss my residents, especially being there in their final hours.

One resident was in so much pain that I would stand outside her room with tears in my eyes before going in to cuddle and rock her to sleep. Despite some staff accusing her of faking, her son personally thanked me for the way I treated his mother after she passed away.

I didn’t do this work for thanks but to make someone’s day happier and more worthwhile. The government still hasn’t done enough, and the Royal Commission was a waste of time. Aged care companies know how to avoid losing too much money by cutting corners elsewhere. After all, the meaning of “employer” is “user.”

Sincerely,

Vicki

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  1. I found the same thing. I fell out of nursing due to lies and harassment from the deputy director of our small regional hospital/nursing home. After refusing to use a communal grooming trolley where old perfume and makeup samples, shared electric and disposable razors shavers were to be used on residents in the communal lounge room, instead of in their private rooms. I had stated that I’d be appalled if my parent was treated so, and I wasn’t going to treat anyone else’s parent like that. I missed nursing, but found my calling as a carer in people’s private homes where I work diligently to keep them out of nursing homes for as long as possible.. well done to you.

  2. What a sad stories because aged care lost workers/people who cared about, and loved, the work that they did with the residents but great that you both felt empowered to write about your experience. I have been in the nursing home industry for more than forty years and have seen how many staff are lost when there are bullies working in the workplace. I still love what I do and the families and residents that have come, and have gone, from my life over those years. I feel incredibly blessed that I have been a part of their lives, even if it has been for a short time. I agree that the Royal Commission has not made the impact on the industry that the government expected. Unfortunately, many Ministers who have held the Health and Ageing portfolio have not and still do not fully understand the industry of aged care and its complexities.

  3. Some Aged Care Facilities (even so called not for profit) don’t care about Their Residents or Their Staff. Thankfully where I work as a PCA We have a Great Team all round. We make sure the Residents are as pain free as possible and get TLC.

  4. I to worked in Aged Care, 1 home for 7 years. Due to the collective bullies, the leader was the boss. On Night duty I was unfortunate to have to work with a lazy bully. I reported her for hitting a woman. Reported it, so called investigation done and outcome not substantiated. Then it was on, i was stood down on an ongoing basis’s. I left due to this. Went to another facility and left due to laziness, management demands on staff was outrageous. Now I continue to support the Elderly in the Community. What a gift. I will never go into a home.

  5. this story reminded me of the time I worked in aged care. the situations in some nursing homes can be far worse. residents being shouted at to shut up in the dining room when they called for help. Residents were left sitting on toilets for way too long up to 3 hours, this I reported and the staff tried to lie their way out of it.
    I once took two pages of issues to management who were dumbfounded I never knew that. well sir you should have known that.
    staff who bully other staff is so bad specially if they come from another country, its hurry hurry hurry all the time,sorry but as I now approach an age that may one day could see me in a Nursing Home I an scared of how I would be treated I would rather die before I go into an Australian aged Care facility.

  6. I’m sorry Vicki has had such an experience. Thankfully I can say that where I live at Warrigal Hughes in Canberra things are very different. When Warrigal took this facility over from St Andrew’s Village I asked if we could keep all the staff because they were the best thing about the place. I don’t agree that the Royal Commission was a waste of time. One of the consequences is that aged care staff have received a pay rise – which they richly deserved.

  7. I too have seen residents begging to be taken to the toilet but nobody to help them because of understaffing and non caring Carers. Complaints fall on deaf ears the management just do Not care.

  8. Oh Vicki. How I completely understand what you’re saying. I too loved working within the aged care sector as a nurse for many, many years. I had the same experience. My heart was shattered when I left my job. I wish something could be done for the poor darlin’s that are in care. Seeing the disgraceful way some are treated is so frightening. My husband and our children and I have made a pact. Never will we go into care. Never, ever.
    The world of aged care is becoming such a terrible place. Something needs to be done, and quickly. Government needs to speak to those with experience, and take aged care seriously. They should remember that an aged care facility could be their last place of residence, and just know that nothing will protect them if they don’t overhaul the industry now.

  9. I hear you. It appears Aged Care has become a business and the same can be said for community Aged Care. So sad. What the decision-makers don’t realise is that one day it will be them in the situation of needing help.
    I too get my satisfication from my clients/Pts however the amount of paperwork that is required these days without enough staff is debilitating for all in this environment.
    Insurance companies are part of the problem dictating to management.
    It would be wonderful if all of the States of Australia had the same protocols too.
    Every decision maker should walk a mile in the client/Pt’s shoes…..

  10. My father was in an aged care in Cairns for a few days for respite took him out when I heard he pressed a call button for his pain meds for cancer and nurse abused him and said it was his finger should have been sore for pushing button and still no meds given
    My mother was in a hospital in Cairns supposed to be for 3 nights she died there and I stayed with her the night before she died sat on a. Dining chair all night no one came into the room all night
    Where do they get some of these staff

  11. Understaffing remains a significant issue. Residents often feel like they are just numbers, as staff sometimes forget that the facility is their home. The quality of the food is poor, and residents are often treated like children. Nurses do not always provide adequate care, and management frequently disregards reports of sexual harassment from female residents. Bullying by care staff occurs daily, with no consequences for the perpetrators. Female carers are preferred over male carers, and there is also racism from residents towards care staff. Some staff members are only there for the paycheck and perform their duties poorly, contributing to the emotional burnout of dedicated workers who need more support. Reporting false behaviors to secure funding is unacceptable, and the excessive charting is impractical given the lack of time staff have to complete them accurately. Misreporting bowel movements leads to unnecessary medication for residents. These issues are extensive and ongoing. As a professional carer, I am committed to providing the best care for the residents.

  12. I love my job in aged care. Being an advocate for the elderly is one of the highest honours. I run lifestyle programs with a great partner. I retired because of my health. Eight months later I went back as my health has improved. I needed that break but I missed those residents so much. Yes there are people who can be bullies. I get on with my job and focus on the residents who I work for.

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