One Earle Haven nurse left with nearly 70 elderly residents

Tuesday 16th July, 2019

One Registered Nurse (RN) was left to look after 68 residents on the day the Earle Haven Retirement Village aged care crisis unfurled.

Queensland Nurses and Midwives’ Union (QNMU) Secretary Beth Mohle said just one RN was rostered on to look after nearly 70 residents, many with complex and life-threatening conditions, at the Nerang facility last Thursday.

Ms Mohle said off-duty nurses and other staff rushed to the facility to help elderly residents and provide support as the shock shut down and emergency evacuation occurred. She commended the actions of nurses and other staff who helped despite losing their jobs.

She said the fact one RN was left to look after so many residents was not related to the crisis – but rather the normal day to day roster at the facility. She said the same figures, or worse, occurred in private aged care facilities nation-wide every day.

“The public need to be aware this is not a shocking number, this is business as usual for Australian private aged care,’’ Ms Mohle said.

“In fact, under Australian federal law, there is no legal requirement for even one Registered Nurse be on site at an aged care facility.

“So Australian private aged care providers can legally leave a single Registered Nurse with an uncapped number of residents. Or with no Registered Nurse at all.’’

Ms Mohle said the Earle Haven crisis smashed the notion Australia’s around 2000 private aged care facilities were staffed like public hospitals or managed by health experts. She said the crisis also highlighted the dangerous and wide-spread under regulation of private aged care facilities in almost every community.

“At Earle Haven we saw off-duty nurses and other staff rush to the facility to be with their elderly residents when this crisis occurred,’’ Ms Mohle said.

“This was a crisis not of their making, but once again vulnerable residents and hard-working staff bore the brunt of critical flaws in the regulation of aged care.

“Earle Haven nurses, and aged care nurses and staff throughout Queensland and Australia, should be commended for their efforts.

“Not only do they receive up to $300 less each week than their colleagues in the public hospital system, but they return to work day in and day out in a system that overloads them to breaking point and then blames them when something goes wrong.’’

Ms Mohle said aged care staff were not responsible for systemic failures in private aged care facilities. The federal government has the power to make legislative change to safeguard tens of thousands of elderly Australians but has repeatedly refused to do so.

She said there would be public outcry if Australian child care centres operated the same way.

The QNMU has repeatedly called for the introduction of federal nurse to resident ratios and public reporting of adverse incidents related to patient mortality rates, staff numbers and skill mix, and how federal taxpayer funds are spent at individual facilities.

Ms Mohle said the QNMU would not rest until safe staffing laws, or nurse to resident ratios, were made federal law. The Palaszczuk Government has committed to introducing nurse to resident ratios in Queensland’s 16 state-run aged care facilities.

“Now is the time for federal politicians to act,’’ Ms Mohle said.

“We cannot wait until the Royal Commission into Aged Care finishes in 2020.

“Safe staffing laws must be introduced to hold aged care providers to account now, before any more elderly Australians are hurt or killed as a result of the under regulation and understaffing in private aged care.

“I thank the media for continuing to champion the issue of aged care.’’

Ms Mohle said private aged care providers often cried poor. She said it was important Australians knew that every year the nation’s approximately 900 aged care providers received around $18 billion in federal taxpayer funds. They also receive a deposit of up to $500,000 per resident, per bed and up to 80 per cent of each resident’s pension, or up to $800 per resident, per fortnight.

They do not have to publicly report how a single cent of taxpayer or resident funds are spent or ensure that funding is spent on direct care for residents.

In the 2015/16 financial year, Australian aged care providers received more than $16.2 billion in Federal tax payer dollars. In the same financial year, Australian aged care providers reported profits of more than $1.1 billion.

The QNMU has written to Federal Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck to request unpaid Earle Haven nurses and staff receive emergency federal government payments.

Stories of life-threatening issues in Queensland and Australian private aged care facilities will continue to be heard at day two of the Royal Commission in Cairns today. (Tuesday 16 July 2019)