Every day at work in our aged care home you can see the anxious faces of our staff. This is not a recent phenomenon but has been the accumulation of stresses over the past few years. Our home is not the only one to experience this. It is sector wide and it needs to be fixed.

The impact of this negativity on staff is impacting on their ability to feel good about themselves and that what they do is worthwhile. This has effects on morale, leading to increases in sick leave and feelings of lack of self-worth which has an impact on mental health.  The ultimate flow-on effect is that it then has an impact on their role and those that they support.

Our staff are the front line workers in one of the most pressurised areas of work at this moment; these are the aged care workers – the personal care attendants (PCA’s), laundry staff, food services staff, maintenance staff, administration staff, leisure and lifestyle staff and registered nurses (RNs).

Each of these workers plays a key role in ensuring that those who live in residential aged care get the best of care and support that they can. Many of them are not in this line of work because of the pay; it is because they genuinely want to work in an area where they believe they can make a difference. 

Our staff are worried not only for themselves about contracting COVID-19, but that they might inadvertently bring this into our nursing home from their own home or might contract it at work and bring it home to their family.

They are aware that COVID-19 is an insidious disease which has diabolical impacts on those who are frail and aged and they have seen the devastating impacts this can have on an aged care home.

There, but for the grace of God, we go.

Our not-for-profit organisation is fortunate at this stage to not have had a confirmed COVID-19 case, however I can only feel for those other aged care organisations where COVID-19 has devastated their facility, having enormous impacts on families, the staff and most of all on those who live in the facilities with many having died or been subjected to some form of isolation. 

What really concerns me is the importance of staff morale and how the commentary that appears in the media can have devastating impacts when negative generalisations are used to describe the whole sector.

I do not disagree that there are pockets of poor practice in our sector. Examples of these have been well-covered by the media and this led to the establishment of the Aged Care Royal Commission. 

There have been many voices heard here, particularly from families of loved ones residing in aged care, providing examples about their experiences of poor practice, supports and communication.

I expect there will be many more voices still to be heard – and they need to be heard.

It is one of the only ways that we can look at how to improve the sector. However, we must also remember that these experiences are not everyone’s experiences, or indeed the majority. 

The findings and recommendations of the Aged Care Royal Commission should have positive impacts for those residing in residential care facilities and for the staff and providers who want to ensure that we continue to provide a safe and supportive environment.

However, I also want to reiterate that good practice is also occurring across the sector, in spite of its underfunding.

It is not all doom and gloom. Our staff are some of the most underpaid and yet accept willingly the large responsibility of looking after our aged. They are extremely dedicated and committed to their work but feel the effects of negativity.

So remember, one of the best ways that you can assist in improving aged care staff morale is to provide them with positive feedback. If they are doing a good job, just remember that a smile and a thank you goes a long way.

This Friday is Aged Care Employees Day and if you have a chance please send the staff at your local nursing home your best wishes.

By Mark Zentgraf, CEO, and Bob Stensholt, Chair, Samarinda Ashburton Aged Services.

Image: peakstock, iStock.

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