Suzanna is an aged care worker and she is so very tired.
“Things are very hard. We are short staffed every day,” she says.
“Staff are rundown, burnt out and they are at breaking point. Some of them don’t know if they can be there for another six months. They are just at their wits’ end.”
The findings of the recent Aged Care Royal Commission gave her hope that real change for workers and residents was on its way, but the political action has failed to materialise.
Last week marked the first anniversary since the Aged Care Royal Commission delivered its findings. Of the 148 recommendations in the report, the government accepted 126 of them but has barely lifted a finger to enact change.
The government earmarked in last year’s fiscal statements almost $18 billion to implement the recommendations, but only $2.6 billion is scheduled to be spent by July 2022.
The remainder of the money is to be spent over the next five years, leaving the sector hanging by a thread.
The Health Services Union (HSU) Change Aged Care campaign states that $10 billion a year is the amount needed to implement the Royal Commission’s recommendations.
Anything less than an extra $7 billion a year would be “a failure” the HSU says.
After two years of a punishing pandemic, a failed vaccine roll-out, a staffing disaster that required the intervention of the ADF, and the incompetence of federal minister Richard Colebeck who’d rather spend his time at the cricket than do his job, the aged care sector is on its knees.
Delia, who works in aged care in Queensland, struggles to hide her frustration and anger.
“We should restore aged care to the importance that it deserves and the respect that it needs in the community,” she says.
“Just to be ignored and not treated fairly for such a long time is demoralising and dehumanising for the poor people we look after and the staff that do what we have to do.”
The United Workers Union (UWU) is one of the unions fighting hard for its members working in the beleaguered aged care sector.
UWU aged care director Carolyn Smith told On the Job she understands the frustration of workers.
“You would hope that a Royal Commission would create change and that the government would listen to the recommendations. They’ve implemented the simpler recommendations like having a council of elders, which is a good thing,” she says.
“The key recommendations around staffing have not been implemented at all.”
Carolyn said this means aged care workers are “physically pushed to the edge, but they’re also emotionally pushed to the edge, and when you talk to aged care workers they talk about this huge psychological burden they feel, like they’re never doing well enough.”
“They are always saying no to people, they’re basically triaging people and dealing with emergencies, but not necessarily dealing with people’s basic daily needs, and certainly not their psychological needs,” Carolyn says.
The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) have released a report today showing the strain of COVID on the healthcare workforce.
The ANFM report highlights the need for the aged care workforce to, “grow significantly to ensure sustainable best practice care during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic”.
It notes the feelings of “hopelessness” and “being unvalued” workers have been experiencing long before the pandemic.
Carolyn notes that the Morrison Government is showing little haste in addressing that despondency.
“The Royal Commission recommended that there should be 200 minutes of care per day for residents in facilities this year, and 215 minutes per day with two years,” she says.
“The government chose to wait for another year and a half to implement the first recommendation of 200 minutes care, that means we’re not going to see that happening until October 2023.”
When you talk to aged care workers they talk about this huge psychological burden they feel, like they’re never doing well enough
UWU Aged Care Director
“There’s no provision for extra staffing after that. Without the staff on the floor, older Australians aren’t going to get quality care.”
“The staff that are there are adjusting to the constant churn of burn-out and so many staff are saying to us that they’re very close to leaving the industry or they are leaving the industry,” Carolyn says.
Despina is one those aged care workers who has just about had enough. She has a simple and direct message for the Morrison government.
“Get your head out of the clouds. Come down, I’ll be more than happy to show you what we do,” she says.
“In full PPE, the masks, the gowns, the shields, running around – short staffed, mind you … Then you can tell me we’re not in crisis.”