Jun 19, 2023

Regional NSW town spends $600K to attract international nurses

Local workforce shortages have led the Coolamon Shire Council to invest in Filipino workers to bolster its aged care team. [Source: Facebook]

A small council in Southern New South Wales is dipping into its pockets to spend over $600,000 so it can recruit international workers for its aged care home due to a lack of local staff.  

A new solution for Allawah Lodge

  • Allawah Lodge is located in Coolamon, NSW, and is run by the Coolamon Shire Council
  • It has only filled 22 of its 33 beds due to ongoing staff shortages, but hopes to change that by bringing in workers from the Philippines
  • Five community-run facilities in the Murrumbidgee Local Health District (MLHD) will bring over 30 Filipino aged care staff
  • $136,000 will support them through relevant TAFE aged care qualifications while $500,000 will be used to build accommodation for the ten workers going to Allawah Lodge

Despite having a waiting list of more than 70 people, Simone Fuller, Allawah Lodge Aged Care Services Manager, said they made the unprecedented decision to reduce capacity last year due to dwindling staff numbers. 

“We were already reducing our resident numbers in our facility to try and match the workforce we had,” Ms Fuller said. 

“You cannot sustain that ethically and safely no matter how much your workforce wants to give.”

Attempts to recruit locally, and nationally, have been fruitless for Allawah Lodge, which is located in a town of just over 2,000 people. Offers to pay HECS debts for nurses during unpaid work placements were not accepted, and workers were unwilling to relocate to the Riverina region. 

Positive moves have been made internally, however, as they successfully supported one care worker as she earned qualifications to become a Registered Nurse. They hope to repeat this with other care workers in the future including the international workers who have already been vetted to ensure they’re suited to aged care services in Australia.

“That’s something we haven’t been able to do in the past because people have been scarce coming into the industry and it’s been very difficult to have competitive selection. We were really looking for a solution where we could get the best of the best and people who really want to work in aged care,” she said.

“We actually have contact with our group right now, they’re not just some random group of people being sent out to us. They even have contact with staff and our residents prior to arriving on Australian soil, so we know they’re committed, have the right value system and highly respect their elderly.”

Allawah Lodge, located in the NSW Riverina region. [Source: Facebook]

Staff shortages impacting regional operations

  • Government mandates for 24/7 Registered Nurse provisions have forced several aged care home closures despite the Government’s 12-month reprieve for approved small providers
  • Homes which are eligible for the 12-month exemption are also concerned it won’t help as regional staff shortages have been ongoing for years

Allawah Lodge expects the incoming international cohort to complement its current crop of staff, particularly as Ms Fuller anticipates up to half of her workforce will retire within five years. International workers will also be supported from day one as work is well underway to integrate them into Australian Filipino communities to help overcome accommodation concerns.

“We have a Filipino staff member who’s been with us for seven years, and will be retiring in the next year or two,” Ms Fuller explained. “She’ll be like a mum to the group and she’s got really great connections with the Filipino communities in Leeton, Griffith, Narrandera and Wagga Wagga.”

“We want to give them the support they need to assimilate into Australian society while keeping connections to their culture. And we are going to be looking at additional workers next year to bring another cohort out and bolster our workforce again. We see this as a long-term solution.”


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