The sufficiency of the aged care workforce has emerged as the most complained about issue in aged care over the last six months.
The latest Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission ‘Sector performance report’ revealed the regulator received 224 complaints about ‘Personnel number/sufficiency’ in the three months to 30 June 2021, out of 1,511 complaints in total.
Peter Vincent, managing director of Aged Care Management Australia, told HelloCare there are staff shortages in aged care, but staff are also not being properly trained for the work.
A drain on knowledge and experience as staff, particularly older workers, leave the sector is compounding the problem.
“They’re saying it’s just too hard,” he said.
The workforce also doesn’t have “the required experience and knowledge” it has had in the past, particularly in country areas, Vincent said.
As an example, Vincent said he has worked with one country facility where 80% of RNs have less than 12 months’ experience.
Regional aged care homes also suffer when staff go on leave because there often aren’t staff to replace them.
It’s unsurprising then that the regulator’s report also shows that during the quarter, of the 189 aged care homes found to have failed an aged care quality standard, the most commonly breached standard was ‘Personal care and clinical care,’ with nearly 150 homes failing on that count.
‘Safe and effective personal and clinical care’ was the most commonly failed requirement, with 82 homes failing. ‘Number and mix of workforce’ was the third most commonly failed requirement, with 64 homes failing.
“That follows,” said Vincent.
“The simple fact is, we don’t have enough staff and we’ve known that we’re running out of staff for the last decade and a half. We’ve had multiple state and federal government think tanks that have done nothing… We’re simply not addressing the problems,” Vincent said.
COVID-19 has magnified staffing problems. As an example, one NSW home on the ACT border lost 50% of its workforce when the ACT border closed.
Similarly, indigenous providers in the Northern Territory have come to rely on backpackers for 15–20% of their workforce, but that dried up due to COVID-19, according to Vincent.
Certificate III training needs to be longer, ideally six months, and prospective staff should be required to pass aptitude and academic tests before they can begin training, he suggested.
South Australia had the highest rate of complaints per head of population, with 2.56 complaints per 100 residents, compared with 2.00 in both NSW and Victoria. Vincent puts this down to staff shortages and a lack of skilled staff in regional homes.
Until the end of last year, ‘Medication administration and management’ was generally the most-complained-about aspect of aged care. But during the June quarter, medication management came in at second place, with 214 complaints.
Personal and oral hygiene was the third-most-complained about aspect of aged care, with 181 complaints.
Food and catering received 110 complaints. The government’s $10 per day increase in the basic daily fee was only delivered from 1 July, so it was too early to be reflected in the regulator’s report.
The overall number of complaints was down slightly on the 1,559 complaints received the previous quarter.
More than half of the complaints received, 786, came from resident representatives or families.
Of the 2,707 residential aged care homes in Australia, 1,809 received no complaints at all. More than three hundred homes were the subject of more than one complaint during the quarter.
Despite the high number of homes to have failed at least one quality standard, only five homes were sanctioned during the quarter.
Two homes were issued with ‘Notices to agree’.
Sanctions are imposed when the regulator isn’t satisfied with the provider’s response to a non-compliance notice or when there is an immediate and severe risk to residents.
There are more than 179,000 aged care residents in Australia, and nearly 180,000 recipients of home care packages. However, there are nearly one million – 823,000 – recipients of Commonwealth Home Support Programs, by far the largest provider of care for elderly people in Australia.
During the quarter, nine new residential aged care homes were accredited and two applications for residential aged care providers were approved. Five homes applied for approval, but two were rejected. One failed to proceed.
Of the nation’s 2,261 home care services, 716 received complaints. ‘Lack of consultation or communication’ was the most-complained-about issue in home care.