Feb 27, 2023

Registered nurse drought in rural areas has created an aged care nightmare

Doctor Advice

As the federal government’s deadline for all aged care facilities to have RNs employed 24/7 looms, those in the rural and regional areas of the country face an even greater challenge.

Graeme Sloane, CEO of the Adina Care aged care facility in Cootamundra, NSW, told ABC News that the search for registered nurses (RNs) to fill job openings has been fruitless for more than a year. In addition to offering above the award rate, Mr Sloane even explored overseas recruitment to no avail.

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has made 148 recommendations, one of which is the requirement of 24/7 RN staff in aged care facilities.

While this is a great step forward in improving the quality of care in all facilities, the industry as a whole is struggling to find enough RNs to fill these positions.

The 2014 Federal Government Report into Australia’s Future Nursing Workforce projected 85,000 nursing shortfalls by 2025, a number that is only expected to increase.

The smaller the home the greater the disadvantage

In addition to the lack of qualified RNs, rural and regional aged care facilities with fewer than 30 beds are also at a disadvantage. 

These facilities are able to apply for an exemption to the requirement, however, this could lead to facilities reducing the number of beds in order to meet the criteria. 

Associate Professor Maree Bernoth of Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga gave evidence at the Royal Commission and is an aged care expert. “That idea of 30 beds needs to be thought through again, so that there’s so much more flexibility and viability for our rural facilities,” said Professor Bernoth. Source ABC News.

The current situation is leaving rural communities especially vulnerable, as the quality of care in these areas will be substantially less than what is available in larger cities. 

The only fix at this point is for facilities to upskill already employed carers, however, it will take two-and-a-half years for a carer to become a registered nurse. Mr Sloane stated “Even if I get someone today who’s willing to do that, it’ll take us two-and-a-half years to get that person to the point where they’re registered.”

Recent home closure: is it a signal of more to come?

The closure of the Allambi Elderly Peoples Home in Dimboola, Victoria, due to its inability to meet the RN requirement, is indicative of the impact this staffing shortage is having on aged care in rural areas. 

The 11 residents of the home have been able to find spaces elsewhere, however, the providers of these facilities do not necessarily have the staff to support them. 

The board chairperson Ann Falkingham said “the closure has rocked Dimboola’s residents, some of whom had hoped to retire to Allambi.”

It is clear that the aged care sector is in the midst of a financial and workforce crisis, and different rules are required for smaller, rural aged care facilities. 

It is essential that government policies reflect this and that more acknowledgement is given to the unique challenges of providing aged care in rural and regional areas.

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