Aged care workers have been carrying more than their fair share of the nation’s burdens in 2020.
Quietly going about their work, it is these dedicated staff who have been doing their utmost every day to keep older Australians living in aged care homes safe, and helping them endure periods of isolation away from family and friends.
We should be recognising our aged care workers right now, and yet we are not: they remain underpaid, overworked and, as though that were not enough, they also often have to endure the harsh spotlight of the media.
“Our workforce, they’ve carried the burden,” Frank Price, CEO of Royal Freemasons’ Benevolent Institution, told HelloCare.
“You hear them say they were scared because their son’s friend at school had a cough and they didn’t know what to do, should they come to work, should they not come to work?”
“For them to think that they could be the next person to start an outbreak in one of our villages has been wearing them down heavily,” Price said.
With 75% of Australia’s COVID-19 deaths occurring in aged care homes, it’s “layer upon layer” of responsibility in aged care, Price said.
“Staff are exhausted and they’re feeling unloved.”
“I tell them, ‘don’t read the paper, don’t listen to the news, because that’s all noise. You keep doing what you’re doing’.
“They are exceptional people. People who work in aged care are exceptional people and they don’t deserve all this negativity that’s thrown at them.”
Making residents happy is what keeps staff going
Despite the exhaustion and suffering this year, staff will still put the residents first at Christmas time, just like they do every year.
“Our staff, they look forward to spending Christmas with residents because they want to make sure the residents have a good Christmas,” Price said.
“That’s what keeps our workforce motivated, it’s the residents.”
The care and dedication of the staff means the residents are happy at RFBI, Price says.
At the start of the pandemic, RFBI increased its staff by 15%. “We knew that things were going to get pretty nasty, and residents would not be able to get visitors,” he told HelloCare.
With more staff on board, staff have been able to meet the needs of residents despite the difficult circumstances.
“Aged care residents…. see the efforts the staff go to. We’ve done a number of surveys of our residents, and they are happy. They like what we’re doing to keep the virus out.”
“Aged care residents are the most beautiful people,” he observed.
“It’s too much”
Many of RBFI’s staff have told Price they’re thinking of leaving the industry. “It’s too much,” they tell Price.
“We’ve got people looking at leaving left, right and centre,” and other providers tell the same story, he said.
“It’s a much maligned industry.”
Much of the criticism of aged care is unwarranted, Price said. “The inflammatory language people on the periphery are using, threatening and warning, it’s totally wrong,” he said, referring to criticism from some quarters that lockdowns have been overly harsh.
When I asked Price how he has coped this year, he gave a weary laugh.
“In the month of November, I had every Thursday and Friday as annual leave, just to recharge the batteries. As it turns out, it didn’t really work.
“I’m tired,” he admitted.
But there won’t be a break for him over Christmas.
“There’s no way I can be away when things are so on edge,” he said.
“There’s too much happening. If you look back 12 months, all it took was a spark and you have another fire outbreak.”
All going well, Price will get a holiday later in the summer.
“Christmas is coming up and I’m looking forward to my team having time off.
“Then, when they come back, hopefully, if things stay as good as they can be, or as good as they were last week”, he said, alluding to today’s northern beaches outbreak, “then I might have a week off in late January or early February.”
As the rest of the nation winds down, there will be little rest for our aged care workers, despite the trials they have endured this year.
The team at HelloCare wishes all our readers, especially those working in aged care homes, a safe and happy holiday period and a very Merry Christmas.