Profits up, staff down

Speakers call for change at launch of aged care ratios campaign.

Owners of for-profit aged care facilities raked in more than $1 billion in profits last year while failing to address chronic understaffing, NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes told a rally on International Nurses’ Day last month.

Brett joined nurses and community supporters in Parramatta Park to launch the NSWNMA campaign for guaranteed staff-to-resident ratios in aged care.

He said it was disgraceful that residents received only two hours 50 minutes of care per day on average, while a Flinders University and University of South Australia study in 2016 found each resident should get at least 4 hours 18 minutes of care per day on average.

“While we welcome increased funding for home care in the 2018–19 Federal Budget, it is deeply disappointing to see nothing set aside for safe staffing ratios in residential aged care,” he said.

“It is imperative the federal government put forward legislation to ensure the $2.17 billion in government subsidies given to for-profit providers is spent directly on residents’ care.

“The urgent problem that needs to be addressed is not funding, but the declining quality of care from chronic understaffing.

“There is no point in increasing funding without adequate measures to ensure that money is tied to care.

“Without a mandatory minimum staffing level in aged care, employers can simply choose not to employ enough staff or cut nursing and care hours.”

Aged care registered nurse Jocelyn Hoffman told the rally aged care had become a commodity traded on the share market since the Howard government deregulated the sector with the Aged Care Act of 1997.

“This loosely worded legislation has led to most nursing homes being dangerously understaffed. Yet alarmingly, they manage to pass accreditation checks,” she said.

RNs are crucial to safe, quality care

Nursing homes suffered a 13 per cent reduction in registered nursing staff working full-time between 2003 and 2016.

“Our vulnerable elderly residents have been put at the mercy of whatever level of care companies will provide,” Jocelyn said.

“RNs are crucial to the delivery of safe quality care. We assess, we plan and we implement the complex care given to residents.

“We provide leadership by directing, supporting and supervising the care given by personal care workers.

“Without registered nurses, who will assess and intervene when our residents’ conditions change? When they show signs of delirium, dehydration, swallowing difficulty or undiagnosed depression?

“Without nurses, who will provide palliative care? Who will assess and ensure that they are not in pain when they cannot communicate verbally?”

Jocelyn said the federal Coalition government had established an “Aged Care Workforce Strategy Taskforce” including six CEOs, but not one worker representative.

She said staff had seen enough reviews of the sector, with 15 inquiries and 11 reviews since 2005.

“How many more heartbreaking scandals do we have to endure before our government will act on the staffing crisis?” she asked.