Apr 01, 2020

The Threat Of Bringing Virus Home Is Taking A Toll On Aged Care Workers

As the entire planet finds itself in the midst of a battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, aged care workers stand as the last line of defence for the most vulnerable members of society.

Soaring death tolls have put the well being of elderly people at the forefront of people’s minds in recent weeks – and while this attention is certainly welcome – those that care for them continue to operate bravely in silence.

Despite stringent infection control procedures and visitor restrictions, those that venture out of their homes to provide care continue to put themselves and their families at a higher risk of contracting the coronavirus.

And while aged care workers have grown accustomed to putting the needs of others before themselves, the constant threat of infection and climate of uncertainty has many workers feeling scared to go home.

No Reprieve

In a recent discussion with a large number of home care and residential aged care workers, HelloCare found that the threat of infection and subsequent pressure are not emotions that are solely reserved for work.

Thoughts of bringing the virus into work are compounded by the threat of bringing the virus home to a loved one, creating an element of guilt that only adds to the constant feeling of pressure.

Distancing yourself from loved ones at home can take a massive emotional toll, especially for aged care workers who have children.

One residential aged care worker who is also a single mother reported making the gut-wrenching decision to send her 12-year-old boy away to live with his older sister until the situation begins to settle.

Like many of us, many aged care workers simply can’t afford to stop work regardless of the level of risk involved, yet some still report feeling pressure from family members to stop working.

A number of responders also take on the role of being a family-carer to senior relatives at home, making the prospect of social distancing in the home an impossibility.

With emotions running so high at this point in time, the prospect of seeing large groups of aged workers experiencing ‘burnout’ in the near future seems inevitable.

Some staff revealed that the feeling of stress is actually intensifying at home, with one person stating that they actually feel safer and less stressed at work due to infection control protocols.

Those who work in home-care find themselves in a variety of high-risk situations when visiting multiple clients, but one selfless sole revealed that the threat of seeing an older colleague become infected actually gives her the strength to keep going to work.

All In A Day’s Work

Given the current level of fear and uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the anxiety being experienced by many aged care workers is completely understandable.

And while some report feeling completely overwhelmed by the current situation, there are others who are taking things in their stride and opting for more showers and less stress.

One of the most promising aspects of our discussion with aged care staff was understanding just how diligent staff are becoming with infection control methods outside of the workplace in order to reduce the risk of infection.

Workers reported using gloves, masks and hand sanitizer when travelling via public transport or filling up with petrol, with some even opting to sleep in separate rooms from their spouses at night time just to be safe.

While almost every respondent reported showering and changing clothes the instant that they arrived home, there are others who have even limited themselves to using the same cup and eating utensils every day.

Unnecessary trips outside of the home and workplace are completely off the menu for aged care staff, with some ordering their shopping online and having it delivered, rather than going to get groceries in person.

Having the health and well being of elderly people become of the nation’s top priorities will hopefully shed some much need light on the value of aged care workers who are constantly overlooked and undervalued.

When you consider the current burden of responsibility being placed on aged care workers, having a rate of pay that is comparable with a cashier at a grocery store is nothing short of criminal.

Although they may not receive the same level of fanfare as the nurses and doctors in the healthcare sector, the service they provide is just as essential and deserving of respect.

Photo Credit – iStock – CasarsaGuru

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  1. Well said Jakob – the front line personal carers in RACFs are true angels. I know because my wife who lived with dementia was cared by those “undervalued people” for several years. I really feel for them in this coronavirus crisis.

    1. Thank you Paul. Yes we are undervalued. The pay speaks volumes! So what happens when your aged care facility are still taking respite residents? How can an aged care facility say that they have the capacity to “isolate” a resident when the come back from hospital or have been in hospital particularly when the have cognitive decline/dementia? They have no capacity for understanding the consequences of their actions. They can open their bedroom doors and just walk out and touch items, tables, even urinate outside their bedrooms! I am so angry about this. I am worried that aged care are more concerned at raking in the money by admitting new residents with no real empathy for the lowly paid workers (mostly women), who are to look after so many and themselves. I feel anxious on a particular Dementia ward as we have had other viruses recently where staff have needed PPE and there was nothing set up. Nobody seems to care in aged care. The CMs are bloody useless not to mention the dismissivness of the RNs when staff query them on the their’s and other resident’s safety. Truly, the government needs to take over all aged care facilities and have professional CMs and management running the show with respect for the AINs that are at the forefront of personal cares. We still don’t have enough hand sanitizer in our dispensers!! An RN said we have to wait for the cleaners to come in and see if they have any left!! Goodness me! Coles, woolworths and Aldi have better safety conditions and better wages! What is going on?? Please stop new residents coming into aged care facilities as we cannot isolate them!!!

  2. I am a nurse in an aged care facility. Thank you for being a voice for us.We are very busy doing what we have to do to protect ourselves, our clients and families..at the moment some of us don’t think about our mental health… I am very lucky, My work colleges are the most amazing people, we understand and support each other.

  3. So true, this article echoes how all aged care workers feel. It is quiet scary thinking about it. My husband and I both work in Aged Care, in 3 different facilities, and it is hard to think what would happened if one of these facilities have been infected- both of us needs to go on isolation, and so it affects everything. On the flip side we also go home to vulnerable kids and an elderly parent.

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