There have been so many horror stories involving the aged care industry over the last 12 months, that even the public who have long turned a blind eye to anything involving the elderly, have begun to stand up and take notice.
But, this is not necessarily a good thing.
Unfortunately, horrible headlines of neglect and abuse are the only stories offensive enough to garner any attention, and the thousands of feel-good stories involving hard-working aged care employees are lucky to even get a few ‘likes’ on social media.
This constant barrage of negativity eventually takes its toll, and people who have no real understanding about the conditions that aged care staff are facing, end up basing their opinions on the character of all aged care workers, on the horror stories that they hear about from mainstream news outlets.
Some of these people have even had the audacity to approach aged care workers on the street and blame them for the horror stories that they have been hearing about.
An anonymous person at the Australian Health Practitioner Agency (AHPRA) told HelloCare that they had heard of nurses in uniform being abused on the street by complete strangers who had heard horror stories about the facility that they worked in.
HelloCare was also approached late last year by a nurse who had experienced similar treatment and would go to great lengths to hide the fact that she worked in aged care.
“Some of my colleagues say they don’t admit to being a nurse anymore as they are immediately looked down on.”
“I know and feel myself that I am hesitant to tell people that I’m an aged care nurse these days. It has gotten to the point where I don’t go shopping on the way home from work and will go and change rather than have people make comments that are often quite derogatory,” the nurse said.
While no one is suggesting that this is typical behaviour from the public, it’s extremely disappointing to think that anyone who has chosen a career path in aged care would be subjected to this kind of abuse.
Who Is To Blame?
The media definitely play a role in this equation, but it may not be the role that you think.
Media outlets will report on whatever gets the most attention and nothing gets more reaction than horror stories that have the ability to shock the masses.
Believe it or not, the topic of balance and the need for positive news stories are things that aged care news providers like us talk about on a daily basis.
It may seem like there is nothing but horror stories and negativity coming out of aged care, the fact of the matter is, that there are numerous positive articles being published about aged care every week, but very few people read them.
And if you think that this is an exaggeration, ask yourself how many times you have personally shared a feel-good aged care story, and then ask yourself how many times you have commented on something that has made you angry.
Statistically, we see readers engage with negative articles almost 5 times more than they do with positive articles. Which speaks to the current day climate of sensationalism, fear, and outrage.
While outrage towards horrible things in aged care is needed in order to showcase problems and encourage improvement and change in the sector, it shouldn’t come at the emotional cost of those who dedicate their lives to caring for the elderly.
This backlash currently being experienced by aged care workers is actually a byproduct of the inadequacy of the current aged care system and a lack of knowledge from the general public regarding what is happening.
It seems like almost every day we see comments from carers and nurses who tell us, not only do they no longer have the time to do the nice things anymore (conversations, hugs, fun) some of them don’t even have the time to complete their mandatory tasks to the best of their ability.
We have also had countless messages from former aged care staff who grew so frustrated by the way that time constraints diminished their ability to do their job, that they decided to leave the industry altogether.
One ex-nurse even told HelloCare that she would sit in the car crying some nights, knowing that some residents had not been properly cared for, and was forced to work hours of unpaid overtime every week in order to be able to sleep comfortably at night.
Working conditions like this can have an extremely negative effect over time, the results of which can be catastrophic to the overall quality of care that residents receive.
If a staff member has to constantly cut corners in order to complete their work it begins to devalue the importance of the task at hand.
And while this might be O.K if your job is stamping tickets or folding laundry, the repercussions of being flippant with the care of an elderly vulnerable person are extremely dangerous.
While the overwhelming majority of aged care facilities consist of great staff who are doing their best to deliver high-quality care, there has been a small minority whose cutting of corners evolved into a general numbness of feeling, and ultimately resulted in the type of toxic environment that breeds neglect and abuse.
This abuse becomes the horror stories that we see and hear about from the mainstream media, and the source of blame is generally the aged care worker who is caught by a hidden CCTV and then shielding their face from the camera while being ushered into court.
And while what there is absolutely no excuse whatsoever for the abuse or neglect of an elderly person, there is very little examination of the working conditions that can help to feed this type of evil.
We currently have an aged care system that places such little value on the elderly people in this country that it allows aged care providers to roster on the smallest amount of staff possible in order to cut costs, and this is one of the main reasons for poor care.
We also have a system that allows providers to pay staff less money than the average Australian wage, which limits the number of people who would want to enter the aged care workforce and attracts people who are looking for any type of employment that they can get.
Carers, who actually spend more time with residents than anyone else in an aged care facility, have the least education and lowest level or requirements in order to become employed, and unlike nurses, they also don’t have to be licensed which makes it difficult for new employers to do a legitimate background check.
Aged care providers that violate quality standards currently face sanctions that minimal, and some providers even have a multitude of homes under currently under sanction and receive nothing but threats of being watched closely.
And some of the staff currently performing these inspections have ties to other aged care providers, and we have heard from a number of aged care employees who claim that their facility was forewarned of an upcoming ‘random’ inspection.
Australians deserve a system that is geared towards quality rather than quantity.
And the general public need to begin to understand the reasoning behind some of the poor care and horror stories that they have been seeing on the news in recent times.
Because the more that people begin to understand some of the circumstances that aged care workers are actually facing, the quicker they will realise the amazing work that they are doing, and the need for a complete rebuild of the current aged care system.