Tuesday 24th March 2009
New research commissioned by the ANF and NSWNA shows strong support among the families of aged-care residents for better pay and increased staffing in the sector.
Qualitative studies conducted among aged care nurses and residents’ families show a convergence of opinions about the state of the sector and the formidable challenges it faces.
Residents’ families do not believe governments see aged care as a high priority issue compared to others such as the economy, housing and health in general. They do not see a sufficient number of staff in aged care facilities for the amount of taxpayers’ money that is channelled into the sector.
This is an opinion shared by nurses.
Aged care nurses believe they should be paid what a nurse in a public hospital is paid and recognise that better pay could help with the quality of service to aged care by keeping more nurses in the sector.
This opinion is shared by residents’ families.
Dedication to the job
Aged care nurses told researchers their key motivation for working in the sector comes from the personal satisfaction of caring for residents.
Many see their job as satisfying, rewarding and allowing them to make a real difference to people’s lives through the clinical and emotional care they provide.
‘I love it. You don’t do it for the money, you do it for the love and joy of it,’ said one aged care nurse.
And another: ‘You’ve got to have expertise in so many areas to be a nurse in aged care.’
Yet, many aged care nurses feel the work they do is not recognised or sufficiently valued by Australian society. This, they say, is linked to perceptions that staffing levels are inadequate, pay rates are low, the sector is under-funded and the often negative portrayal of the sector in the media.
This lack of recognition extends beyond the public. Nurses in aged care often feel their work is seen by nurses in other sectors as ‘not challenging’ and that they are not seen as ‘real nurses’.
A growing gap between sector reality and residents’ family expectations
Aged care nurses noted that families’ expectations are changing and many families expect facilities to be ‘hotel’ standard. Nurses see it as a difficult challenge to meet these expectations particularly with current resources and staff-to-resident ratios.
The research reports that staffing levels are impacting on the capacity of the sector to deliver care. Understaffing has increased workloads for many aged care nurses. The combination of workload and responsibility for resident care leaves some nurses burnt out, with high rates of staff turnover and workplace stress.
Families expect fixed ratios of nurses to residents to be standard regulation and already in place, although no such regulation yet exists.
‘You’ve got to have the staff to cover the worst-case scenario. You just can’t have the bare minimum,’ said one.
Despite these issues, residents’ families have a positive attitude to aged care nurses who they see as dedicated and caring people who are able to put up with difficult jobs they would not want to do themselves. Many feel the community doesn’t appreciate aged care workers.
‘They’re run off their feet. There is not enough of them (nursing staff),’ said a family member.
‘Caring people, people-people, overworked and underpaid,’ said another.