My career in aged care started when I was 17 years old. I worked on weekends while I was doing my last years of high school in Stockholm, Sweden. I was a community carer in the northern part of Stockholm, working every weekend to earn money to pay my own way.
At the same time I was doing my HSC – it was a hard time but looking back I gained an enormous amount of knowledge and insight about life. I used this as I worked hard to pass my exams – all of which I passed with High Distinctions. Except mathematics, of course.
I still have very strong memories of the clients I met during that time. I have vivid pictures of these people in my head – what we did together and how they influenced me and my direction in life.
I was very passionate and related to my clients in ways I didn’t expect to. It made me feel as though I had something that I could share. I achieved an understanding of how important it is to maintain independence, to share stories and to nurture lives.
My Career in Sweden
I felt a strong attraction towards a career in case management, living in a country where the Social Democratic Party was in power between 1930s up until the early 90s, I felt at home culturally and politically in a system where people’s needs were valued and cared for.
After finishing HSC I got a job at Trossens Bostadshotell, which in English basically means ”serviced living for the elderly”. In Sweden, this would be a complex with apartments that have one bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and balcony. Some were two bedrooms for couples.
We had nurses and doctors on the premises as well as lifestyle and recreation facilities. We had meetings where we brought agendas and issues were discussed between nurses, managers, doctors and team leaders so that it could be seen from every angle depending on what profession we had.
I worked there for the next 5 years while I studied for my Division 2 Nursing which I needed to apply for (recognised in Australia as a Diploma of Welfare Work). In Sweden I was trained to do assessments, specific to aged care and disability.
All home visits/assessments took place together with the team leader and discussed with group of carers.
We met every morning and dealt with what was important for each day – this was usually issues regarding clients and other agendas.
Stockholm was divided in so-called ‘social districts’ and each district had a flat/unit/office open daily for carers to eat lunch, talk and for meetings. It was social and there was a strong sense of teamwork.
A Side to Aged Care that Wasn’t For Me
In 1991 I moved to Australia. Since living here I have worked for Barwon Health, St Vincent de Paul, Uniting Care and MACS.
I have also worked for private aged care providers. One in particular I worked at for 8 years and really enjoyed our team on the floor, the small community and the support the Personal Care Assistants and overall nursing staff showed.
When the management changed, it slowly transformed the work environment that I had once loved into a place that didn’t sit right with me. Nothing is worse than having your once warm and kind facility became only focussed business, quantity over quality, and one way communication.
Since I started working in aged care in Australia I’ve seen Personal Care Assistants’ work diminish into only doing the personal care with very little influence and partaking in the development of the aged care sector. It makes me very sad. And sorry.
The training included compendiums hanging on the wall in the staff room for us to fill out and hand in at the front desk. There was never any time to do the so called training in work hours so most staff had to take it home. Without interaction, missing out on the process of sharing and learning.
For me personally I do feel my passion slowly died. I felt tired. Everything I worked for and all my training just wasn’t in any need.
The Brighter Side of Aged Care
One of my best experiences was working at a facility in Belmont where I worked as Personal Care Assistant and was later offered a position as their Lifestyle Coordinator.
While I was there I was able to use my experience and training. I found out what the residents really wanted in their lives. I was involved in the assessment process and accreditation. It was very special as I got to know the residents on another level – to know more about their lives and experiences.
When I worked as a Personal Care Assistant in Sweden many years ago we had a team system which each included morning staff, evening staff and night staff. Each team had ‘responsibility for some residents’ to bring needs and concerns forward in team meetings.
In this way we could all see the different needs/behaviours etc and understand the residents better. Not only that, the staff from different shifts had a greater understanding of each other. This team system is a way to bring interest and staff that like their jobs. It brings responsibility, passion and empathy. It involves people to take action.
I have become very interested in advocacy for the elderly and I’m looking at specialised aged care as a way to use my skills. I’m also very passionate about helping the elderly who are homeless and suffering mental health issues. These groups need more attention.
I’m now working somewhere where I’m happy. I see people in their own homes. I support them to maintain independency. I see their families. I have a better understanding of where they come from, their history, their social cultural and traditional identity. I feel blessed to have this job.