Four in every ten aged care workers plan to leave the sector within five years, due mainly to the high-pressured work environment, excessive workloads, increasingly complex care needs, and chronic understaffing, a survey has found.

Jane Grundy, who is 65 years old and has worked in aged care for 21 years, told HelloCare that aged care staff are leaving in droves because they are “disillusioned”. She said she is at the retirement age, and plans to leave the industry too.

“I’m shattered”

“I’m shattered. I’m totally emotionally shattered by the fact that I can’t provide the type of service that these people deserve to have. My heart is broken,” she said.

“There’s so much rush from one job to the next because every dollar counts as far as the employer is concerned,” she said.

She said she has performed thousands of hours of unpaid care as a home carer because there isn’t the funding to spend the time with customers to give them the care they need.

She said no one wants to work in aged care any more because there is no job security. “I can be available for 12 hours a day and I only get paid for 6 hours of work,” she said. “And you’re driving your own car at your own expense.” The casualisation of the workforce means it’s very difficult to get a steady job.

“Young people don’t see this as a career path,” she said. “But there is a career path there. There is a job path with the most incredible job satisfaction. Everybody loved you in this job! At the end of the day you’re exhausted but every person you have worked with has thanked you profoundly for what you have done.”

She said the work is run by technological systems that take up time to administer. “Technology is the enemy of the care worker because it creates a huge amount of stress. It requires a lot of unpaid time,” she said.

“Care workers are under lots of pressure at the moment to meet expectation of companies wanting to make money out of services that are underfunded,” she said.

She said the organisation she works for is even encouraging NDIS customers to leave and go elsewhere because the services are underfunded.

To busy to provide proper care

The survey, which was conducted in June 2019 by Australian Community Research and is the largest of its kind, found that nine in ten are “too stretched” to offer the appropriate support to aged care residents and home care clients.

In terms of much-needed social and emotional support, ninety-two percent of both aged care and home care staff said they don’t have the time to provide it to residents and clients. However, many say there are more residents and clients without friends or family to provide that emotional support.

Of those surveyed, 37 percent of aged care and 38 per cent of home care respondents said they are planning to leave the sector in the next five years. 

Almost all (93 per cent) of the aged care staff surveyed said they have seen an increase in the complexity of care needed during their time working in the sector.

Findings are “shocking”

“These findings are shocking, but sadly not surprising,” said Health Services Union National President, Gerard Hayes. 

“Federal budget cuts have eroded the sector’s margins. Our members often report anecdotes of five dollar a day food budgets or rationing of sanitary pads,” he said.

United Voice Assistant Secretary and Aged Care director, Carolyn Smith said aged care staff are in a “truly shocking situation”. 

She said billions of dollars have been “ripped from the system” by the government, leaving workers with high levels of stress, understaffing, impossible workloads and navigating a system that is not adequately funded to deliver quality care for our elderly. 

“It’s heartbreaking,” she said.

Aged care findings

According to a statement from the HSU and United Voice, the main findings among the residential aged care workers were:

  • 87% of respondents have to hurry residents in their care because there are too many tasks to complete;
  • 94% don’t have enough time to talk to residents in their care;
  • 75% said ‘yes’, in the last two years they have seen a reduction in staff on the floor;
  • 93% said during their time in aged care they have seen an increase in residents with more complex care needs;
  • 94% said they have seen an increase in dementia;
  • 44% of residential aged care respondents have suffered a work-related injury
  • 79% have been abused at work, and 
  • 77% have been in situations where they felt they could get injured or were not safe.

Home care findings

The main findings for the home care workers were:

  • 87% of home care respondents said they don’t have enough time to talk to an elderly person in their care; 
  • 76% have had to hurry up elderly clients because they have too many things to do whilst in their home;
  • 67% of home care respondents say that during their time working the sector there has been an increase in workers having more complex care needs; 
  • 76% have seen an increase in dementia;
  • 45% of home care workers have suffered a workplace injury;
  • 69% have been in situations in the homes of clients where they felt unsafe; and
  • 60% have been abused in the workplace.

In some of the written responses to the survey, staff said they were depressed, depleted and felt “burnt out”. They said work often felt like a “production line” rather than “resident-focused”.

In practical terms, aged care residents and home care clients had to make do with washes instead of proper showers and had to remain in bed for the day rather than getting up, according to responses to the survey. 

Staff also said there was not enough time to answer bells and assist in toileting or changing continence pads.

Largest survey of its kind

The HSU and United Voice have developed a 5-point plan for aged care, focused on increasing the amount of time carers can spend with aged care residents and home care clients, improved career paths for aged care staff, and better pay and conditions.

The survey of nearly 5,000 aged care and home care staff, the largest of its kind in Australia, was conducted in June 2019 by Australian Community Research. Respondents were both union and non-union members.

 

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