“I was totally burnt out after nine years working in aged care”

This story was relayed to HelloCare by an aged care worker who recently left the industry. For all the news we read about aged care, we don’t often hear the voices of those working ‘on the floor’ in aged care homes. The speaker’s comments do not necessarily reflect the views of HelloCare, but they deserve to be heard. 

I was totally burnt out. I hit 60 and for three months I couldn’t do a thing. I was just so flat. I look back and I think, I was just burnt out.

And then when COVID-19 hit, they were doing nothing about it at the time. I wrote to the manager and asked why isn’t there PPE or hand sanitiser. It’s changed now, but they should have had an extra cleaner, just going around and cleaning door handles.

It was in a country town. Their policies didn’t cover anything for COVID-19. They said they had PPE if there was a case, but by then it’s too late. 

With COVID-19, instead of packing their jigsaws up, staff were told to brush them all into the bin. All they had to do was spray it, or pack them up for a few weeks and then bring them out again. 

One lot of residents were told that if you sit together you’ll get a $1,000 fine, so one resident was in tears thinking that they were going to get fined. A lot of residents were teary and crying. 

So it’s been very, very ill-handled. 

‘I’m out of there’

It was just mind-blowing for me and I took long service leave and I decided I’m out of there.

I spoke to my manager and she said I could come back if I wanted to. That was my lifeline if I couldn’t find another job. I know what I’m doing there and I can walk straight in, onto the floor.

But [months later, when I applied for an advertised position] they said they had an overwhelming response and unfortunately I didn’t make it to the second round. Even though I’d spent nine-and-a-half years there, I didn’t make the cut.

They have not replaced the ones who left. They’ve brought in agency workers to fill shifts. The staff are from the nearby cities, they’re not local. They’re probably getting paid big money for travel. The provider isn’t looking after the locals in the town.

Know the residents, know their routines

You’ve got a 6 o’clock start. You’ve got to hit the ground running. You have some who are on the buzzer saying they want to get up at 6am. When you know them, you know where to start. You know their routines. The buzzer would go off and you’d know exactly who it was. 

It’s an 82-bed facility. How are the agency staff going to find the resident to start with, let alone know what they’re buzzing for?

Short staff time and time again

It’s an everyday occurrence they are down two to six staff a day. 

At night there are 40 residents in one area, and there are only three staff on the floor. You can’t tell me they are getting proper care. And that’s a full team.

If you’re short, and you hear that time and time again, and you have two staff and one goes on a break, you have one to 40. 

You can’t get to them straight away. They can be buzzing for ages before you can get to them. It is full on. 

The ones who are bed-bound, they are the last on your list. You can’t sit with them, you can’t feed them. You can’t tend to their care. 

Lifters need two staff members, so if you’re working short you’ve got to source someone from the other side [of the home], but they’re already loaded up to the hilt with what they’re looking after. 

On top of everything else, every morning staff are expected to do a ‘resident of the day’. You’ve got to do their blood pressure, get a urine sample, weigh them, go through their cupboard. 

But you get no extra time to do that. 

You’re trying to feed six or seven residents, some of them won’t sit, so you’re walking with them trying to feed them finger food. And then you still have the ones who are bedridden, who you’ve still got to get to.

It’s usually 10-10.30am before you can get to them to do their pads, look after incontinence aids – that they’ve been in all night. And then it’s a mad rush trying to get them done before the next shift comes in.

If you’ve got time, some of them have day chairs, and you can get them into a day chair and you can bring them out, but then they’re targets to being poked at and pushed.

Falls or refusals of medication happen all the time, and you’ve got to keep following up.

It’s scary, you can’t protect residents

You walk into the dementia ward, there’s little old ladies with bruises all over them. But they are constantly falling and you can’t be there to help them. Or they have been pushed over by another resident because they’re not supervised because you can’t supervise them.

When you’re looking at the dementia ward, there’s one man who’s in and out of every room. He’s put pillows on top of the bedridden ones. You can’t lock the doors. Many times I’ve walked in and this man has put machines, blankets and pillows on [residents’] heads. It’s very tough. It’s scary, scary stuff. You can’t keep residents protected.

A lot of the time you’ve got one to 20 in there. You can’t get to them all.

If you have more staff on the floor, you know who your wanderers are, you know which ones go into the rooms.

There’s no time for one-on-one. While you’re looking after one in room 9 another resident will be up in room 20 pulling it apart and basically wrecking everything.

You’re always apologising 

I hear about a lot of the residents in tears. The residents are all shell-shocked. When I was there before I left, you were always apologising to them, saying I’m so sorry. 

I think they think you’re lying to them, but some of them know that when you’re on the floor, you’re really under the pump. 

There are a lot of disgruntled families. I don’t think they understand the situation.

They need more staff

They need more staff. Another one has gone back to ask for a job, and they said no to her, too. It’s like they are trying to get rid of all the old staff. I’m not the only one.

Everything goes under the carpet. 

At the end of the day, the residents should be foremost, they should be getting full care. They are not getting it.

Burning out

I do lunch with a few of the ones still there and they are burnt out. All the talk is about doing more hours than they should be. 

One of my friends rings me every now and then to let off steam. One of the staff said to her I’ve worked 21 days in a row with one day off. At the end of the day, you’re going to fail [working that long]. How can you be working those hours? You’re another person on the floor, but you can not be doing your job properly.

They’ve been told there are no holidays to be taken, so don’t even bother putting in for them because we are understaffed.

Emotionally involved

I’m still in touch with other staff. I’ve tried to step back, but I’m still emotionally involved. 

The residents are paying huge money to live in that facility and they’re not getting the care they deserve. 

A lot of times you have one staff member to 20 residents. You can’t toilet them, you can’t be with them, and you wonder why there’s a lot of falls at that facility. The staff can’t look after them.

I am considered a valuable asset at my new workplace as I am recognised for my experience and my certifications.

Image: Wave Break Media, iStock.

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  1. I hear you! I hear you! Unbelievable isn’t it? And still after all these years and 2 yrs of a Royal Commission nothing is happening. They are now asking for another 2 yrs to decide how to fund aged care! Absolutely unbelievable. Yep I have seen the more experienced staff leave to be replaced by visa holders who don’t get fulltime work, only casual or part-time hrs. If you have been in aged care for yrs you are not valued as you are seen as a possible problem as you are more likely to complain. New foreign staff are often on a 3 yr or more contract of sorts with the company employing them making it impossible for them to complain of work conditions for fear of hrs being cut or worse losing their job in a new country. Just more staff to use and abuse at the companies whim.

    1. I too burnt out after 16 years in Aged Care. My conscience can’t do it anymore, as the whole system is so wrong, and great injustices are being done to our elderly. The recent Royal Commission is not going to give immediate results, namely more staff and funding. Also there should be accountability on how much of the funding is spent on direct resident care. At the moment too much of the budget goes to administration, management, senior staff and profits.

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