In mid-February 2022, ANMF (Vic Branch) surveyed 16,000 members working in private aged care. Their responses consistently highlighted the horrific conditions staff and residents are contending with. It was described as a ‘war zone’ and ‘hell’ with residents fainting, vomiting, coughing and gasping for air in the hallways, and shifts so short-staffed that members are simply unable to help.
More than 70 per cent of members who responded said staffing levels and resident care are worse now than they were on 1 March 2021. Of those respondents, 99 per cent said understaffing was also compromising their own safety and mental health.
Asked to recount their worst shift, members revealed heartbreaking and traumatic scenes, centred on ‘abhorrent’ understaffing:
‘Three staff members to 123 residents. Anxiety attacks related to [being] unable to meet residents’ basic needs.’
‘Only 3 staff for 90 residents, having to deal with the stress of residents being incontinent because there was no staff to assist them, watching the humiliation and indignity the residents felt because of it.’
‘One PCA for 16 high-care locked unit dementia residents, and 20 high-care residents in the not locked unit. Most couldn’t have their pad changed overnight, many waited an hour for me to be able to attend at all, and when I got there I couldn’t really reposition or help because they are X2 assist. I went home and sobbed. This isn’t the standard of care I want to provide, but I am so powerless to effect change.’
As a result of being so short-staffed, nurses and PCAs unsurprisingly reported working excessive hours, and unmanageable workloads. To add insult to injury, the poor pay and indifference – or worse – from management were also regularly mentioned. The situation is driving a significant number of staff to think about quitting:
‘I feel sick at the thought of going to work. My mental health is declining rapidly due the insane workload, the expectations outside of contracted hours and I can see myself losing empathy and care. I honestly don’t know if I even want to be a nurse anymore.’
‘I was unable to assist everyone’s needs. I was being abused by residents. Manager then sends out messages reprimanding [me for] work not completed. Very stressed out and on the verge of wanting to quit.’
‘I have worked at this facility for 22 years and am considering walking away as it is so bad now. Over the past 6 months it has become very sad to watch.’
‘I am ready to resign today! I was here last time over a month ago and at that time I emailed the manager to report the workload! Now, it’s worse!’
‘Never paid overtime for working past end of shift. Never feel appreciated by employer. The stress is huge. Workload is too heavy. Pay is very poor. It would be less stressful to work at Woollies or Bunnings. The pay is probably comparable too.’
At the 1 March 2022 rally for aged care in Warragul, outside Russel Broadbent’s office, ANMF (Vic Branch) Assistant Secretary Paul Gilbert read out in full a heartbreaking survey response. ‘I’ve never read it out loud before because it’s going to hurt doing it,’ he said beforehand.
“Dementia patients are covid positive. It’s a war zone!!! I wouldn’t know where to start.
Residents fainting and lying in the halls, some unvaxxed, they are the worst.
Vomiting, coughing and gasping. Obviously we can’t isolate them to their rooms.
Understaffing, one PCA on night shift in a dementia wing of 26 of whom half are covid positive. I wasn’t emotionally prepared for what I’m seeing, it’s like a bad ABC doco.
It’s the saddest thing I have seen in my life. They have no idea what is happening. They are all vomiting, coughing, choking and passing out in the halls.
One lady was walking and vomiting and trying to catch her vomit, others are just walking everywhere incontinent of faeces. One man just lay on the floor in front of the office gasping. I can’t describe what’s going on. It’s hell. I knew it was coming but I wasn’t emotionally prepared, I am so heart broken.
A code brown has been enacted on staff who are already burned out emotionally and physically, asked to work 12 hour shifts to cover the abhorrent short fall of staffing.
Exhausted staff dragging clinical waste into a car park, isolated from our loved ones too afraid to interact for fear of contracting a virus.
We need help and we need it now.”
‘What is occurring [in aged care] is shameful,’ Mr Gilbert said after reading the email. ‘This campaign will never end without us getting ratios in aged care. We’re absolutely committed to achieving that.’
Tell your MP to prioritise aged care this election. The louder our voices, the less they can ignore us. See if your federal MP is supporting aged care reform this election and send them a message to thank them or encourage them to make aged care a priority. It’s not too much to ask.