Private aged care in crisis - needs immediate action from the Morrison Government

Thursday 27th January, 2022

As we witness the Omicron wave spread through private aged care facilities across the country, vulnerable, elderly Australians are at risk of preventable deaths due to dangerously low staffing levels. We need immediate action from the Morrison Government to prevent further suffering and devastation.

Too many frontline nurses and carers working in aged care are stretched so thin they are burning out and experiencing moral distress, as there is just not enough staff to attend to residents’ basic needs. Some are now left contemplating leaving their jobs, according to a new survey being conducted by the country’s largest union, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF).

The national survey, which opened on 19 January and closes on 2 February, asks ANMF members to share their workplace experiences during the pandemic, exploring issues such as current workloads; exposure to COVID; access to vaccinations, testing (RAT and PCR) and personal protective equipment (PPE). Some preliminary results released by the ANMF today include :

  • Over 58% of participants said their workplace had experienced a COVID-19 outbreak;
  • 20% said they were planning to leave their position within the next 12 months and 38% of participants said they are planning to leave their current position within the next 1-5 years 
  • 40% of staff worked double shifts;
  • 25% of participants said their employer asked them to cancel/delay planned leave or return to work from leave.

A/ANMF Federal Secretary, Lori-Anne Sharp, said: “It paints a picture of the country’s private aged care system at breaking point. Appropriate staffing is at the heart of quality care and there is simply not enough staff to meet residents’ basic care needs. The Morrison Government has had plenty of time and warning, yet, has completely failed to address the systemic problems in aged care and now residents are suffering further and dedicated aged care workers are left to pick up the pieces.

“Aged care staff are working under extremely difficult circumstances, trying their very best to hold the system together. As the pandemic continues, they’re exhausted, physically and emotionally burnt-out, working longer hours, double shifts and consecutive days without adequate breaks, with no immediate relief in sight. The feedback from members planning to leave their profession, particularly those working in aged care, is extremely concerning for the ANMF and indeed, the whole community. It’s about time the Morrison Government recognised their value and contribution and provided a safe working environment and awarded them a COVID allowance payment for their efforts.

“The Government’s current workforce surge plans are inadequate and too slow in their roll-out. It’s why the ANMF, other unions and aged care providers have issued a SOS to the Prime Minister to deploy the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to provide emergency support and assistance at nursing homes across the country. Our call for ADF support has been largely ignored.

 “The ANMF is engaging with the Federal Government and our industry stakeholders to address the various issues impacting health and aged care during the pandemic, but from what our members are telling us, it’s crucial that chronic understaffing, particularly in nursing homes, is resolved  - before lives are lost unnecessarily.”

Some feedback from ANMF survey participants:

“It's a nightmare in aged care right now. THEY WERE NOT PREPARED AT ALL !!”

“I have been working and still currently working throughout a Covid outbreak in a nursing home. We are very short staffed, so hours have been long and days off are rare. We haven’t even been compensated for our time or efforts as of yet and unsure if we will. I am mentally and physically worn out but I keep going simply because I have no choice, the residents need us.”

“I have had to work several night shifts with only two care workers and one RN to over 100 residents. During a recent red zone lockdown I had to care for over 60 residents by myself during 2 night shifts. I was exhausted and only paid $23:35 per hour. I’m very saddened that night shifts are taking on the heaviest loads having to do laundry and kitchen work and their usual work during a 10pm to 6 am shift.”

“We have COVID at work in our wing the staff work load has increased 100% we have no extra staff and each shift is always short staffed, we are starting to breakdown at work and at home pure physical and emotional exhaustion.”

 ANMF media release authorised by Lori-Anne Sharp, ANMF A/Federal Secretary. 1/365 Queen St, Melbourne. 

The ANMF, with over 310,000 members, is the industrial and professional voice for nurses, midwives and assistants in nursing in Australia.

ANMF media contact: Richard Lenarduzzi on 0411 254390