“We are in crisis”: Aged Care Worker speaks out

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Aged Care AIN Sue shares her experience of working in Aged Care, and why she’s fighting so hard for a better deal for our elderly. 

In one way or another I have been involved with the elderly most of my life.

My grandmother brought me up. At 96, she still lived at home and could play lawn bowls.

I also cared for my in-laws who could not get the help they needed to stay in their own home. My mother-in-law passed away in hospital, and when my father-in-law went into care, it ended up being the worst decision of our lives. He had limited mobility, was legally blind and was forgotten about by those who supposedly cared for him.

I am a certificate 4 AiN and have worked night shift in the same aged care facility for 15 years.

I used to call in on Dad on the way home from work. He lived in another aged care facility. I would attend to his hygiene, assist him with breakfast and set him up for the day. I would go back and help him with his lunch. I then called in on the way to work and assisted him into bed.

This was due to a lack of qualified staff who were so busy, short-staffed and did not have the time.

He passed away within 12 months and we live with enormous regret every day about the decision to put him into full-time care.

I work in a facility that is multi-storey with five independent households. On the top floor there are two separate households with 20 residents in each. On the second floor there are another two separate households with 20 residents each. On the bottom floor there is one household with 20 residents.

There is also a separate dementia unit with 20 residents.

When I work night shift we have one registered nurse.

On the top floor there is one staff member, on the first floor one staff member, and on the ground floor one staff member.

This is on a good day when we are not short-staffed, which happens regularly.

In the dementia unit there are two staff members.

It is a real challenge to look after our precious elderly with such limited staff. If there is a fall, which unfortunately happens regularly, the RN and staff member are taken off their floor and the other residents are left alone.

Day staff and afternoon staff don’t get it any easier. We have lost our kitchen staff, laundry staff and cleaning staff. Most of the work now comes down on the nurses.

Not only do we care for families’ loved ones, we now cook, clean, do their laundry, serve meals, give medication, as well as all aspects of daily living – personal care, showers and toilet. You can only imagine what this is like – it is horrendous for those in care.

You can’t physically do your job. There is not enough staff or time to meet the needs of our elderly.

We are in crisis and have been for some time.

I realise that management try but they can’t help us.

Fifteen years ago, I worked in a facility that was well respected, had a long waiting list and enough staff to care for our residents. Now there are limited staff and not enough time to care for our elderly in the way they deserve.

I choose to work here. I don’t do it for the money or job security. I do it because I care.

I, along with thousands of other nurses, am mentally and physically exhausted. We can’t keep doing our job with conditions the way they are.

We need all Australians to help us. We need politicians to start hearing us.

There is a royal commission into aged care being held at the moment. This will bring to light the conditions in aged care. While this is a big step forward, and we welcome it, it does not help us now.

After everything our elderly have lived through, seen, struggled with their entire lives, they should feel respected, given the dignity and proper care they deserve in their declining years.

We need more staff. We need to make ratios law now. We need to increase our wages so that we can attract more staff. We need companies to be accountable for where the money is being spent.

To the government, state or federal, come and work a day in our lives. Open your eyes and see what is happening in aged care. It really is a national disgrace.

We, as Australians, need to make the government listen.

This article was originally posted in the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association publication, Lamp. To join, visit their website.

To sign up to the Aged Care ratios campaign, visit the campaign website.

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