Push to reveal staff ratios

Community has the right to know staffing levels of publicly-funded aged care facilities, Senators told.

Forcing aged care providers to publicly disclose their staffing levels would be “a wonderful first step” towards safe staffing, ANMF federal secretary Annie Butler told the Senate inquiry.

Independent South Australian MP Rebekha Sharkie has introduced a bill into federal parliament that would require nursing homes to publish the numbers of nurses, carers and other staff they have rostered per number of residents.

Annie said residents, families and the community have the right to know, given that the country’s top for-profit providers make big profits while getting more than $2 billion in taxpayer subsidies annually.

She said if the bill became law it would at least give the public something to judge different facilities on.

“While that reporting would be excellent, there’s still no standard being set. We would still argue for the setting of a standard.”

The ANMF is campaigning for laws to make providers employ an adequate number of staff with the right mix of skills.

Annie told the inquiry the aged-care sector was special because 70 per cent of its funding came directly from the taxpayer.

“It’s not the same as Domino’s Pizza or a mining company.

“The unique circumstance here is that they’re not just companies trying to run a business and make money; they’re meant to be providing a service to a large proportion of our population.

“These companies have the financial capacity to provide better care for their residents by employing more nurses and carers but are focusing on maximising profits and shareholders first.”

Cutting staff is a common strategy

She gave several examples of companies dependent on taxpayer funds that had shed staff and cut resident benefits.

Staff at Japara facilities were told they could no longer check residents at night due to so-called “privacy reasons”.

“They can no longer check whether they are comfortable, whether they have fallen or anything like that,” Annie said.

“So, what they might do is use mats that you can put on a bed that have an alarm – if they are working properly – that will tell you whether a resident has fallen out of bed. The problem is that the resident has already fallen out of bed.

“We think, and we started to hear from members, that the strategy behind that is to cut staffing at 
night and remove registered nurses at night.”

In Victoria, Bupa had cut nursing hours to cover a staff pay rise.

In Tasmania, after Regis took over Presbyterian Aged Care, staff reported that employee numbers were cut, staff on sick leave were not replaced and meal sizes were halved for residents.

Meanwhile, the two non-executive directors of Regis received $16 million each in the last financial year, Annie told the inquiry.

These “excessive” sums were a “shocking” contrast to the $45,000 to $52,000 annual salary for a care worker.

“If that money were first going into care provision instead of maximising profits and going to the different owners of the companies, we could see increased staff and, eventually, increased wages for those staff as some basic recognition of the job they’re trying to do.

“When you dig in to see how money through Bupa goes back offshore, how money through Opal goes back to Singapore, and where staff hours are being cut and residents are being left uncared for, that’s our concern.”

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