IN A NORTH Queensland aged care facility, a nurse is helping an elderly resident. The Enrolled Nurse of 30 years bathes the woman, puts on a fresh nightie and smooths back her hair.

She talks to the mother-of-four who was born in the 1930s and lived through the second World War.

She discusses the weather, the cold mornings and cloudless, sunny days while quietly monitoring her condition.

The woman is tired, her eyes closed and breathing labored. The nurse explains her family were just in the room, that her daughters and grandchildren came with flowers and photos and stories full of affection.

She says her daughters will be back any minute.

“It’s clear this woman is loved,” the nurse says.

“I’m extremely grateful to work in a facility that allows me the time to properly care for residents. “But I know this is rare. Understaffing in aged care facilities everywhere means most elderly Australians don’t get the love and dignity they deserve.

“Just imagine the clothes this woman has washed and the meals she’s cooked, not to mention the advice and hugs she has given her kids.

“She was a young woman once and one day we will be her. I hope we receive the care and dignity we deserve because at the moment, most people don’t.

“I’m lucky where I work, because we have enough staff to spend time with our residents. But I know that at most facilities the conditions are so bad that, one Registered Nurse can be left to look after more than 100 residents.

“That means little or no time for basic hygiene, let alone conversation. Aged care in Australia is a national disgrace and that’s why I’m campaigning for change.”

QNMU branches pledge support

The nurse is one of many QNMU members campaigning to improve Australia’s aged care system.

In Queensland, more than 100 QNMU branches between Cape York and Coolangatta recently signed up to become community aged care activists. These branches were from every health sector, including aged care, public and private.

The pledge took place at our Annual Conference, where each branch was asked to commit to helping with the campaign by identifying activities they would conduct in their local areas.

Branches pledged to hand out bumper and wheelie bin stickers, host afternoon teas, and spread the word at the hairdresser and shops.

In fact, since the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) launched their Ratios for Aged Care – Make them Law campaign on 12 May, more than 5000 Queenslanders have signed up to become aged care activists. That’s more campaign volunteers than any other state or territory — and the numbers continue to rise.

People are speaking out.

Tired of inaction and the blame and shame culture in aged care — where aged care providers have traditionally held all the power while distributing blame — aged care staff, residents, relatives, communities, suburbs, towns and cities are openly discussing and reporting elder neglect due to under staffing.

The media are following suit, running articles and stories aimed at the aged care providers and federal politicians responsible for the lack of laws around staffing in Australia’s 4000-plus privately run aged care facilities.

“For the first time I feel change is coming,” said Lorraine Rock, an Enrolled Nurse from Proserpine who recently signed the branch pledge at Annual Conference.

“I am lucky to work at a facility that is well-staffed, but we could always use more resources.

“Every aged care nurse knows there are elderly people out there who have lived long and productive lives, yet they’re growing old without the care, dignity and respect they deserve. “These people helped build our nation so what kind of country are we if we don’t care for them properly? “In many facilities there are not enough staff to feed people, not enough staff to properly wash people. It’s unforgivable.

“The campaign for change in aged care underway right now is invigorating. I signed the QNMU’s aged care pledge because I really want the elderly to receive the care they deserve.

“I want all aged care nurses to be able to give that care.”

Groundswell of support

Politicians are picking up on the groundswell of support as well. Following Labor’s resounding victory in the recent Longman by- election, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten listed aged care as a priority issue ahead of the next federal election.

And on 25 July, just two months after the ANMF launched the campaign, Australian Medical Association President Tony Bartone detailed aged care understaffing as one of the major reasons one third of doctors were expected to stop or reduce visits to aged care facilities by 2020.

The situation can no longer be ignored. Our campaign is gaining momentum.

To join our campaign and become an aged care activist, visit www.morestaffforagedcare. com.au

What’s our campaign about?

Currently, there are no federal laws that state how many nurses or carers are required at any given time to deliver safe resident care. There’s not even a requirement for a single Registered Nurse to be on site.

As a result, many of Australia’s 4000-plus privately-run aged care providers staff their facilities as they see fit.

The QNMU has repeatedly stated elderly Queenslanders and Australians are experiencing unnecessary pain, suffering and premature death as a result of chronic understaffing.

The QNMU will not rest until the federal government, which has responsibility for the majority of Australia’s aged care facilities, makes safe staff levels law to protect the elderly and those who care for them.

Originally published in Queensland Nurses & Midwifery Unions – Inscope Magazine

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