RNs returning to troubled nursing home

The NSW Nurses’ Association has forced an aged care facility to ensure that registered nurses are rostered on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The Royal Freemasons’ Benevolent Institution (RFBI) embarked on radical change when it took over Waratah Village nursing home at West Wyalong, in the Central West of NSW, from Bland Shire Council.

Nine registered nurses were made redundant during the sale process, leaving just two RNs – the full time general manager and part time care manager.

Six enrolled nurses resigned with some of them telling the union they did not want to work at a facility with poor staffing levels.

The NSWNA took up the case with the Aged Care Standards and Accreditation Agency Ltd, the Aged Care Complaints Scheme, the federal Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Fair Work Australia and Bland Shire Council.

The union said the RFBI was in breach of section 52 of the Public Health Act 1991 (NSW) by failing to have a registered nurse on duty at all times in a nursing home, as defined by the Act.

Waratah Village comprised a nursing home or high care area of 10 beds and a hostel or low care area with 43 beds, when the RFBI took control on February 1.

After the change of ownership there was no RN to care for residents before 8.30am or after 5pm Monday to Friday or at any time on weekends. Staff were unable to access Schedule 8 medication outside the hours of 8.30am to 5pm Monday to Friday.

The absence of RNs forced residents to undergo unnecessary transfers by ambulance to the local hospital, NSWNA members reported.

In an attempt to dodge its obligation to provide 24-hour nursing coverage, the RFBI then effectively reclassified all high care beds as low care, by applying to the Department of Health and Ageing to relinquish the high care place, sand then notionally moved the high care residents in those places into what it called “pre-1997” places. They claimed that by doing this they no longer had a legal obligation to ensure Waratah Village’s residents were cared for by Registered Nurses at all times.

However after pressure from the union the RFBI finally agreed on May 7 to recruit nurses “as soon as possible” in order to comply with the Act.This means residents at Waratah Village will soon be cared for by registered nurses 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

NSWNA general secretary, Brett Holmes, said the NSWNA is pleased it was able to secure this outcome for Waratah Village residents and staff.

“Royal Freemasons has told us it is starting registered nurse recruitment immediately and we welcome that commitment. Adequate staffing, in the right skills mix, is vital to the provision of good quality care in all aged care facilities and is something the NSWNA will continue to keep an eye on at Waratah Village,” he said.

In his letter to the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, Brett said the RFBI was trying to avoid its legal and moral obligations to the residents of Waratah Village.

Brett said there had been a dramatic drop in the level of care provided to high care residents who until February 1 were attended to by registered nurses at all times.

“We believe that RFBI’s stated intention to move high care residents out of high care places and into low care places, represents a sleight of hand and, if allowed, would make a mockery of our nation’s aged care system,” he told the minister.

Inquiries by the NSWNA revealed 29 residents required a high level of care. The union told Fair Work Australia that staff no longer had enough time to properly care for all residents.

“Residents are often now found lying in soiled beds because there is simply not enough staff to attend to them,” the union told the tribunal.

Brett Holmes said that since RFBI took over Waratah Village, nursing and PCA hours in the dementia unit had dropped by 28 per week, while nursing and PCA hours in the rest of the facility other than the dementia unit, had been slashed by around 175 per week.

Cleaners’ hours had dropped by around 46 per week, and kitchen staff hours by around 45 per week.

The Association would encourage any registered nurses looking for work in the West Wyalong area to apply to the Royal Freemasons’ Benevolent Institution for work at Waratah Village as soon as possible.


Top: Darren Price and Jill Funnell (far right) with nursing colleagues took the issue of changes at Waratah to the public and the media.