After clocking off from her routine night shift at one of Australia’s typical nursing homes carer Yvonne (not her real name) heads back to her house and invariably collapses from exhaustion.
The problematic aged care sector – plagued by understaffing, low rates of pay and insufficient investment – is challenging work yet like many aged care workers, Yvonne says it’s residents who bear the brunt.
“It makes you feel frustrated because you cannot give the care that you know the residents deserve and what you are capable of giving,” Yvonne explains.
Yvonne has worked in the aged care sector as a carer for over a decade.
The current facility she works at houses 93 residents who require both low and high care, and includes a dementia wing.
Working nights under the supervision of a registered nurse, Yvonne and one other carer look after all the residents’ needs.
Standard duties include general rounds to make sure residents are safe and in bed, changing incontinence aids and toileting.
Yvonne says delivering aged care in this environment is demanding and unpredictable.
“The aged really don’t have a recognition of time. They are up and down all night. It’s your responsibility as a carer to make sure that they’re safe all the time.”
Yvonne says the aged care sector is falling short when it comes to providing quality care.
Last year, the ANMF released its National Aged Care Staffing and Skills Mix Project, revealing nursing home residents should receive an average of over 4 hours a day of care instead of the current 2.84 hours.
The study found a skills mix of registered nurses (RN) 30%, enrolled nurses (EN) 20% and personal care workers (PCA) 50% was the minimum skills mix required in nursing homes.
“Every nursing home needs more staff. It is a major problem wherever you go and some places are worse than others are,” Yvonne says.
“The place I worked before coming here, in my area I had about 56 residents. I worked with the RN and the RN was always running around elsewhere. I was doing double the amount of work on my own because there were no staff to help me and that’s a danger to yourself and your residents.”
Along with her day job, Yvonne is in the final stages of completing her studies to become an enrolled nurse.
Advancing her skills was a decision she made in part because at 47 years of age she felt working in the aged care sector was taking too much of a toll.
Once a qualified EN, she will reluctantly contemplate leaving the sector.
Yvonne says nursing homes operate 24-hours a day and believes that the workforce, in particular carers, are vastly undervalued.
“You never feel appreciated. You have to put up with the abuse from the residents themselves, and then you have to put up with the abuse from senior staff and managers.
Yvonne followed the footsteps of her mother to work in aged care.
In a seemingly poor reflection on the sector, her now elderly mother plans to avoid entering the system at all cost.
“She worked in a nursing home for 45 years. She is now 90 years old and she swears to us kids, she’s got 13 children, that the day she’s got to go into a nursing home she will overdose on her medication.”
Yvonne says the level of quality in aged care depends on the facility and what investment it injects into staff and resources.
In recent years, Yvonne says the qualifications that carers require have slackened, with many new staff entering the workforce after as little as three months training.
Despite the pitfalls in aged care, Yvonne is proud of the resilient workforce and continues to front up day in day out to keep the residents safe.
“That’s why I go to work; for my residents. I make sure I give them my 100%, which is what they deserve and what they pay for.
“I absolutely love my job. I love the residents. I love that I can help them. Some of them do not see their family. I love how some of them regard you as their family.”
Originally published in the ANMJ Magazine March 2018.