I worked in two aged care facilities in Tasmania as a kitchen hand, cleaner and also laundry.
When I got the job I was over the moon. I loved the work, but loved the elderly more.
I am not a fan of nursing homes, but with my compassion and love I thought I could make a difference in the end stage of life for someone’s mother or father.
I was a casual mostly working between 10-12 shifts a fortnight, which was never a problem. I never turned work down.
The first facility I was at, carers would love to complain there was not enough staff , but I do not believe this as they were always quite a few, not all, who would just dwardle around, or you would find them chatting while the residents’ room-bells were going off.
I was fast at my job and tried to never waste time so that way if a resident wanted me to spend an extra minute with them I could. My bond with residents was high and I always thought ‘what if this was my mother or father, how would I like them treated?’ I thank them from the bottom of my heart. I was raised right. Remember we will all grow old one day.
Prior warning given before accreditation audits
On the subject of accreditation, in the facility I was at, the CEO/DON at the time would come and warn the areas as soon as they were informed of an inspection, so staff knew the date they would be about. It was never a random turn up, which it should have been, because that’s when the real truth comes out, especially if they acted like they were just visiting a family member.
In the four-and-a-half years I was there, as soon as we were told accreditation was coming our supervisor would be constantly on our back – clean this or clean that, make sure it is spotless and all the paperwork is done. As I knew my job on all shifts inside out, I made a point of saying but why now? If we are all doing our jobs properly and signing the paperwork at the end of each shift which says we did it, then it should always be done.
Many times I was called the ‘OCD’ (obsessive compulsive disorder). As I run my own food business, I know how important it is for things to be in order and right. Please do not think I am saying I am perfect, as I am not and I would often say to my supervisor that I have no issue helping anyone, but when it is abused because they know you won’t dare leave until it is done, it was not right.
But the problem is, many supervisors get too friendly with some staff, and it’s like ‘can you do this or that because such and such’. No, we were not understaffed, they were lazy.
So yes, accreditation was always passed because everyone knew when, so all were on best behaviour and certain staff were off on the days of it. I and a couple of others who worked in the homes were told if we get stopped and ask questions, make sure you answer with ‘all good’. I said, ‘well you best pray they don’t ask me, as I will not lie’. Then I was kindly reminded I was a casual.
Trouble in the kitchen
Meals were below standard in the facility with non-certified cooks cooking. Many times, in utter disgust, I would see fingers going into food and the worst was one of two large trays of bread and butter pudding was being taken out and was dropped on the floor, our floors had the gritty non slip surface, and you could imagine the mess. I remember saying I could not help clean it up as I had to go collect dishes, but could help once back. The response was ‘they won’t know’, and it was scraped up off the floor and dished. I said ‘you cannot do’, that and then was told “remember you’re a casual -we will say it was your doing, not ours’.
Kitchens are fast paced, and the whole facility runs to the kitchen. To my utter disgust, when I got back, all 80 sweets were done and placed to the side ready to go on the trays as soon as they had been cleaned and reset.
I knew then I was trapped between a rock and a hard place as I had only been there a year at that stage where the others had been there many years. Many times I was told to shut my mouth or else. Many times when delivering the meals I would whisper to the residents, ‘please do not eat that, I will slip something extra to you at afternoon tea’.
As far as care staff were concerned, if I were the CEO I would have fired them long ago. I recall doing supper – and this was not just an isolated incident, it was many times – residents would ring their bells or call out ‘I need to go to the toilet’. I would go rouse up a carer and say ‘Mrs ABC needs help to go to the toilet’. They would say ‘she can wait, it’s once every two hours’ or you would get them saying loudly outside the residents room ‘do you cross a bridge on your way home from work, because if you do, take her and throw her in the river’. It was never nice.
I had seen them rough handling many residents and heaven forbid if the resident told them off or said they would report them. On a few occasions, the residents would tell me things that happened and I said write it down and file a complaint and ask to speak to the CEO. I really cannot say what or if there was any outcome, I knew my job was on the line all the time for advising residents of what to do. I had one care staff come right up in my face and was told she would love to belt me up if I did not shut up. That carer is still there, known for her attitude and nastiness toward many residents. They have their favourites for sure.
Residents were over-medicated
In the secure wing (for residents living with dementia) that broke me many times. The way they were treated, walking around with half-hanging-up nappy pants with poo coming through their clothing and heaven forbid if they got a little restless or noisy. Staff would write up their reports so that when the doctor came in a behaviour chart was put in place and their medication upped so when care staff just wanted to sit and do nothing that shift, they would just dose them up a bit more. This was ongoing. The RN’s, some, not all, had no issues doing this.
One day I had had quite enough and said how would you like this if this was your mother or father being treated this way, how would you like it if it were you? As we get older our body still feels sensations and urges and UTIs are quite common in the elderly so the urge/sensation to want to go to the toilet is normal. Whilst I do know a carer can not run back and forth 10 times an hour, they could always use other alternatives, but do not most of the time. So a question is, if you need to go to the toilet, what do you do? So, I am told I am stupid and to back off. Many residents cry out for being left on toilets for long periods of time. As much as I would cry many times on my way home from work at how residents are being mistreated, my goal was to get as many shifts as I could just to give them a smile and hope I helped make their day a bit better.
I was never given a permanent shift as I was told I was too reliable a casual and so others, in fact 11 more, were given permanent shifts over me, although it was very rare for me to lack shifts. As I said, I worked between 10-12 shifts a fortnight, and once I did 17 straight shifts with no break, but I did not mind.
Making the decision to leave
Nothing really changed over my time there. The abuse and ridiculing of residents continued and I was breaking inside from it all. I remember telling my parents that never while I was alive would they ever go into a nursing home. They said it was their choice to make, not mine, which I do respect, but thanking our Sweet Lord neither are in one as yet.
My reason for leaving – something I never wanted to do – was we had a CEO change and the new guy loved to flirt and make sexual remarks. Quite a few loved that attention, I did not. When asked to go see him, he made a passing remark and I said I do not find you funny and feel you’re crossing the line. He said you’re a casual here, right? I replied yes, I am for the last four-and-a-half years, and he said ‘well, you work too much, consider yourself from today forward one shift a week’. And all my shifts got dropped.
I filed a complaint to the board and sadly nothing was done. I got another job at another facility within the week but was only there five months. I could no longer work there, as the next place was worse than the first with a CEO who is still there who does not like any bad news or conflict, but with many foreign workers who can barely speak a drop of English, bad attitudes and power trippers over just a cleaner and laundry worker I could take no more, and left.
When I handed in my resignation letter which included an explanation as to why I was leaving, the letter I received back basically said I am sorry you left. I did not know, it’s sad to see you go. My letter was not good, and I stated things were very bad there. I guess you could say I was gobsmacked at my response letter. That facility is now under investigation.
One more point is that the more high care residents they had, the more money they got. It was amazing how many lower care residents became high care fast for this reason. This was discussed many times in meetings at my first aged care home.
The author wishes to remain anonymous to protect her identity.
Article has been lightly edited for readability.
Image: fizkez, iStock. Model is posed, stock image.
Please note: These are the views of the author only and do not represent the views of HelloCare.