Regional Australia needs quality aged care

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Jan Howard

Jan Howard

Influential federal MP Tony Windsor has pledged his support for the Because We Care campaign to win better wages and conditions for nurses working in aged care.MP Tony Windsor heard directly from Tamworth’s aged care nurses about the dire state of their sector recently, when he attended a public meeting hosted by the NSWNA, along with more than 100 other people.

In the days and weeks leading up to the meeting Tamworth aged care nurses gave their all to win Tony Windsor’s support for the campaign; they held street stalls, collected 4000 signatures on a petition, and put their case in the local newspaper.

As it turns out, Mr Windsor, whose 94-year-old mother is in aged care, was already one of their strongest supporters. He told The Lamp: “The most important people in our society are the people who look after our old and our young.

“If we value the people who do the caring then we need to remunerate them.”

NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes told the Tamworth meeting that nurses are at breaking point and that the sector urgently needs more Federal Government resources.

“Nurses and Assistants in Nursing who work in aged care – dedicated and hard-working – are growing increasingly frustrated and concerned about the lack of funding for aged care in Australia,” Brett said. “The Federal Government has failed to respond to the Productivity Commission report handed to them mid-last year, and their lack of action has meant that aged care has reached crisis point.

“Their inability to prioritise the quality of care received by older Australians in nursing homes means that nurses are stretched to the limit.”

Jan Howard, an RN working in a Tamworth aged care home, told the meeting that aged care residents deserved better than what they were currently getting from the system.

“They certainly don’t need people who are feeling the pressure of lack of time, who are constantly clock-watching because time is getting away from them and they still have umpteen other jobs to do before the end of their shift.

“I think we all agree it’s about time the government started doing the right thing.”

Roz Norman, a nurse in the public health system, described the strain that a lack of resources in aged care is putting on Tamworth Hospital, and the increased stress it is putting on elderly residents.

“Most aged care facilities operate on minimal staffing levels after hours and a registered or enrolled nurse may not be available to accept the care of the resident after initial emergency treatment at a hospital.

“The resident is then admitted to hospital, which increases their confusion and anxiety, ultimately impeding their ability to heal and get well quickly.

“It is imperative that aged care facilities be properly staffed with licensed, skilled nurses at a level that will allow residents to be cared for in their own environment.

“With access to licensed skilled nurses on every shift, hospital admissions may be avoided.”

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Heartbreak putting husband in care

In a moving moment Maryann Krug told the meeting of the pressure and stress of having a close family member in aged care.

“Making a decision to put a loved one into care, in my case my husband of 40 years, is not easy or one made lightly. It tears you into tiny, tiny pieces that time does not put back into place.

“Feelings of inadequacy, betrayal, disloyalty, dishonesty, guilt, anger at yourself and the circumstances, failure, sadness and hopelessness, envy when you see him or her holding hands, having a coffee together, going for a walk, in short having a life together.

“Each and every visit reopens these feelings. It is no surprise then to learn that depression is common in people placed in these positions.

“Having painted a sad picture, however, I have no reservations in praising the staff who look after my husband. They have been unfailingly good humoured, kind and caring to both of us.

“We often forget that staff members in these facilities gain the family as well as the resident when an admission occurs. They are so patient and kind when faced with such sad times each and every day.

“It is most important that these facilities and staff are valued in the manner they deserve. Conditions of work, hours, pay, education and training are of paramount importance to us, those whose loved ones are in their hands. I would think that it was vital that all aged care facilities have a registered nurse on duty 24 hours a day not just eight hours a day.”

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Love-hate affair with aged care

Jan Howard spoke to the Tamworth audience from her heart, about how 40 years of nursing – 27 of them in aged care – had affected her. “I love spending time with the residents in our care home, but I hate the lack of time that I have to do this.

“I have never regretted becoming a nurse. I love nursing, but I hate the excessive paper work, the excessive documentation, the amount of time spent bashing away at a computer keyboard.

“I love the fact that I can care for someone who has dementia and is confused and upset, because they are scared and don’t know where they are, and they want to go ‘home’. I love the fact that we who work in aged care can use our clinical skills and knowledge to help them when there is a medical problem, and we can pull on those clinical skills to ‘fix the problem’, but I hate all the assessments that have to be completed to show that they have dementia, that they are confused, that they are scared and that they want to go home.

“Funnily enough, I still love nursing.”