The 24-hour news cycle is inundated with stories about Melbourne’s aged care crisis, yet we have heard little from the workers on the front line – the aged care staff who courageously turn up each day to care for those most at risk from COVID-19, the elderly residents of aged care homes.

We have reached out to the aged care community and spoken to a number of staff about the realities of working in aged care amid so much pressure. 

They have generously shared their stories with us, revealing the practical impacts of staff shortages, the fear and sadness experienced by isolated residents, and an overriding sense of doom.

Sarah * 

I work in an aged care facility in Melbourne. We are very lucky to have no cases of COVID-19. 

Myself and my work colleagues are finding it very difficult. It’s hard that we are right in the middle of this aged care crisis with COVID-19. 

We have a very good facility in which sections can be locked off, with 15 residents in each unit. We finally have plenty of personal protective equipment (PPE) equipment and we have regular updates and training on COVID-19. 

We have been understaffed for years, and now when staff call in sick we cannot replace them. We can’t get agency staff at the moment, so we work short on a daily basis. There is so much pressure on us all. 

My work friends have a debrief on Fridays on the House Party app with a glass of wine. We have all felt so stressed and down. Thank god our families have been amazing support. 

It’s the saddest thing to see a resident not being able to hug or touch a family member, only through a glass window – when that was allowed. They are doing okay. We have extra leisure programs to keep them entertained. There is plenty of FaceTime and a local school is sending cards and we send them back. 

Some families showed us no respect when they were allowed to visit. They did not adhere to 1.5m social distancing. Finally management stopped visits, as they were putting everyone at risk.

I understand the frustrations families have but we are doing the best we can. 

Emily *

I am extremely impressed with our facility and how it is handling things. 

We have all PPE required at every shift and mask wearing is mandatory for us and has been for a few weeks. Temperatures are checked before we are allowed to sign on for our shift. 

We are in unofficial lockdown which means we are taking visitors for compassionate reasons or via an appointment system. Residents are temperature checked every morning and afternoon. 

As for how we’re coping, it is exhausting. We work short at times. Only regular staff are permitted in the facility. 

I personally have stepped away from time to time to gather myself emotionally. 

There is a sense of fear amongst residents, for sure. Some ask, “Have I got the virus? Why are you dressed up like that if I don’t?” We are working hard to comfort people but unfortunately time doesn’t always permit.

Each employee has undertaken mandatory training in correct donning and doffing. As always, there are some who are lax in wearing masks properly, but they are swiftly pulled up. 

I am extremely emotionally drained. It’s like waiting for a bomb to explode.

Jane *

It grates me that people are judging the workers. Everyone is quick to blame the workers, but no one listens and tries to fix the issues.

I’m now out in the community, so my job is safe. 

The people and their families are very nervous. My clients are asking that I only work for them, and not go from client to client.

For my own safety, my family and the clients, I now only see one client a day instead of finishing with one and going straight to another. That way it gives me a chance to get home, have a shower, and put clean clothes on, so I’m not wearing my clothes from one client to another with that client’s body fluids, house dust on me. It has (come at a personal cost to me) in some ways, but I’ve tried to make the client a whole day shift instead of just morning or afternoon.

It’s incredibly hard to do personal care wearing a mask.

It’s hard to work full time, be extra careful, and then come home and home school. It takes its toll on everyone.

I know some caregivers that have decided to stop working for now because they don’t want to risk getting the virus and passing it on to the clients. It would kill the clients and those caregivers will then blame themselves.

Hopefully I can go back home to New Zealand soon for a few weeks to see my friends and extended family.

My family, my dog and thinking of a holiday when this is all over helps me cope with the stress. 

* Names have been changed.
Comments have been lightly edited for readability.

 

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