There was a sense of urgency in the building as aged care providers and industry leaders gathered at this week’s “Strengthening the Aged Care Workforce Conference,” to discuss the issues and possible solutions to the industry’s staffing woes.

Australia’s ageing population is set to place even more pressure on an aged care system that is struggling to meet demands, and workforce issues are shaping up to be one of the greatest challenges going forward.

Although attracting new staff has long been an issue within the sector, ACSA, CEO, Pat Sparrow revealed a statistic that indicates that even current staff may be losing their faith in aged care.

“According to new trends, 37% of residential aged care workers don’t want to be working in aged care in five years time, and 38% of aged home care staff are saying ‘no’ or ‘probably not’ to working in the aged care sector in five years time,” said Pat Sparrow.

While aged care may never be the most glamorous job prospect for a potential employee, those that do make a living caring for the elderly have always gained a great deal of personal satisfaction from their role.

Unfortunately, the amount of negativity being absorbed by the aged care sector is taking a real toll on the sense of pride of aged care employees, and this same negativity is compounding other issues that already hinder the recruitment process. 

“Obviously, the Royal Commission and the way that the media has been portraying the industry is very stressful, we have had stories of staff who don’t wear their uniforms publicly or they cover it up. Some staff actually had people yelling at them,” said Pat Sparrow.

The increased scrutiny being placed on providers during the accreditation process has also had an effect on staff, with one aged care provider from the audience sharing her concerns with everyone in the room.

“Our staff said that they feel the stress of accreditations. In our survey, we ask how many plan to stay in aged care, and a higher proportion of aged care staff said that they will leave, compared to our home care services,” said the woman.

“We continually tell staff that they are doing a good job to help reinforce that the stuff they do day-in-day-out, occasionally they may make mistakes but we are not doing the stuff that they’re hearing about in the media.”

The audience members’ fears were also echoed by Pat Sparrow.

“I understand why Commissioner Janet Anderson says that “they are not there to be our friend,” but when you hear stories about staff who have been left in tears after a visit from an assessor, it’s obvious that staff are incredibly stressed.”

“If you work in a way that is distressing to staff then that’s not professional, and we need to make sure that both staff and accreditors are operating professionally and following codes of conduct.”

Ageism may not garner as much attention as other forms of prejudice, but the sheer lack of interest in older people’s issues from the general public is indicative of society that rarely sees older people portrayed in a positive light.

The elderly are virtually absent from mainstream entertainment outside of stereotyped roles, and when you combine this with the negative connotations of being old and ageing, the complete lack of interest is understandable. 

“We know that the media is largely focused on the negatives, but we have to think about how to change the public perspective of ageing,” said Pat Sparrow.

“We need a campaign similar to others like Slip, Slop, Slap, breast screening, or anti-smoking campaigns, and we need this new campaign to tackle ageism.”

“I think ageism extends to funding as well.”

Pat went on to point out the stark differences in funding between the aged care and health care sectors, highlighting that residential aged care providers collect a maximum of $280 to care for somebody, while hospitals and rehabilitation centres can receive $1,200 a day.

“It doesn’t matter if your under 65 or over 65, or if you live in residential aged care or in a disability support accommodation – if those are your needs, you should be supported to that level,” said Pat Sparrow.

“And the system doesn’t allow for that to happen and we need to call it out and say that some of that is ageist.”

“We can spend 300,000 on someone who is under 65 but not over 65, yet their needs can be exactly the same, which I think highlights some very ageist attitudes and discrimination within this system.

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