Plenty of support for aged care ratios on Q&A 

NSWNMA puts aged care ratios front and centre on the ABC’s respected current affairs forum.

During a special episode of the ABC panel show Q&A devoted to Australia’s aged care system, panellists and audience members debated how the sector might be reformed.

Discussions ranged from introducing staff ratios and higher quality meals, to the urgent need for a large funding injection to create a world-class system for a rapidly ageing demographic.

In the audience was Gabi Pearson, an NSWNMA organiser, and her question to panellists addressed the lack of ratios in the sector. Gabi cited a recent NSWNMA report that found 94 per cent of aged care workers in New South Wales had transferred a resident to hospital following a fall in the past year, putting an added burden on NSW’s already struggling public hospitals.

Gabi told the panel that: “75 per cent of those same aged care workers said that falls could have been avoided if there were better staff ratios in their facilities.”

She asked the Federal Minister for Aged Care, Richard Colbeck, “when will the government stop pandering to the profiteering aged care companies and introduce mandated staff-to-resident ratios?”

While the minister said the federal government did not support ratios, calling them a “blunt instrument” and arguing there was no evidence that ratios would lead to better care, other panellists were united in their support of ratios and increasing the numbers of highly qualified staff.

“A synonym for blunt instrument is bare minimum” 

Sarah Holland-Batt, who recently gave evidence to the Royal Commission about the abuse and neglect of her father in an aged care home, rejected Colbeck’s position, saying “another synonym for blunt instrument is bare minimum”.

Holland-Batt said her father broke his hip and ribs in care; injuries that were the result of falls that wouldn’t have occurred with appropriate staffing levels. She said “the fact that there’s not an RN on site in aged care facilities in Australia 24 hours a day is … outrageous. These are people with complex needs.”

Julie Collins, the Shadow Minister for Ageing, agreed.

“There should be a nurse on 24 hours a day on site. There’s a community expectation … that, when something goes wrong, particularly in the middle of the night, that there will be a nurse there to help your loved one. There needs to be more staff. They need to be better trained and better paid,” she said.

Sean Rooney, CEO of Leading Age Services Australia, a peak body representing aged care providers, agreed that “good-quality staff with the right skills, and the right training are fundamental to good care”.

“Every provider I meet – whether it’s an RN, a facility manager, a care manager – I haven’t met one that hasn’t said to me, ‘We don’t want more staff, we don’t want them better skilled, and we don’t want them better remunerated’.

“I am very concerned that some of the staff don’t get enough training and enough support, in aged care, to do their job. They want to do it really, really well, and they’re working so hard to do the best possible job.”

The show also shone a spotlight on the plight of the approximately 50 per cent of residents in aged care facilities suffering from dementia. Sarah Holland-Batt said she was concerned care is “being delivered by personal care workers who can have as little as a five-week TAFE certificate … these are not people who have medical expertise”.

Food budgets as low as $4.50 a day

The celebrity cook Maggie Beer made an impassioned argument for providing residents with the right kind of food to “help stave off cognitive decline”. Beer cited aged care homes where residents were involved with carers in shopping for food and cooking.

Beer also discussed her training program for aged care cooks and chefs, some of whom have budgets from “as low as four dollars fifty a day”. But she added that it’s not just more money that will make the difference. “What worries me is you cannot do real food without the scent of home cooking.”

Beer explained that because our saliva decreased with age, the scent of food is increasingly important to give us cues to eat and to help us enjoy the “pleasure of eating”.

She said that “at six or seven dollars a day, you can only have processed foods and frozen foods, and so it’s impossible to give the quality of life that we must give to our people in aged care homes”.

NSWNMA Assistant General Secretary, Judith Kiejda, said Q&A did a good job of highlighting the problems in a system, which is desperately in need of reform. “We know that residents aren’t receiving the kind of care and attention that they need. When there are residential aged care facilities with only one registered nurse employed for over 150 residents, problems are unavoidable.”

Judith supported Beer’s calls for improved food quality, but she also noted a recent NSWNMA study, which found 35 per cent of Association members in aged care reported that competing workloads meant they didn’t have enough time to help a resident eat or drink.

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