In September 2021, I wrote to Minister Richard Colbeck, Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Services, along with 13 fellow signatories, and proposed a suite of short and long-term solutions to tackle the workforce challenges the aged care sector was facing at that time.
It is vital that we understand that without an aged care workforce, there will be no aged care.
The aged care worker shortage is not a new issue. It is one that has been reported on, reviewed and highlighted to the government for decades.
But right now, with an avalanche of Omicron cases in the community and within the sector, it is definitely the worst I have seen it.
Then there is the additional compliance thrust upon the industry in the middle of a pandemic, which is taking RNs off the floor so they can provide streams of reports.
The current workforce situation is not sustainable and we need the government to take action now.
The solutions we proposed were ignored because the government believed that the situation would improve once border restrictions relaxed.
But, unfortunately, the situation has only deteriorated.
We need more people on the floor right now. To achieve that we need to be able to bring people in. But we need a sustainable workforce, so it can’t be exclusively immigration.
The first step in rectifying the workforce crisis is pay aged care workers a wage that is in line with that paid to the hospital and disability sectors – meaning a 20 to 25% increase on their current wage – as well as providing incentives for students to become nurses, such as discounted university fees.
The next step is to add aged care workers as a skilled occupation on the migration list for the next four years.
Royal Freemasons Benevolent Society Institution has plans to bring in 100 overseas workers between now and June 2022, with three internationally qualified nurses having already arrived to work as carers in our facilities and train to be recognised as registered nurses in Australia.
The measures outlined to the minister will provide a solution to the current crisis, but it requires all of the players to come to the table.
All of us need to fight for aged care workers and fight for our older community members. Imagine the consequences if we don’t.
We have to change the narrative. We have to provide hope, but we can’t do it on our own.