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Aged Care Employee Day: What do you like about working in aged care?

Things that make a good aged care home: a supportive manager, time with residents, laughter and fun, sufficient staff.

That’s according to the people who know best, aged care staff. With Aged Care Employee Day on Wednesday 7 August, the time feels right to hear them out.

A new independent study by Dr Sarah Russell, of Research Matters, titled ‘Working Well in an Aged Care Home’ asked staff to fill out a survey on what they enjoy about their jobs.

“The media focuses on heartbreaking stories in aged care homes,” the report says. “Staff who work in an aged care home are often hardworking, dedicated people doing a very difficult job for not much pay. The linchpin of a good aged care home is competent, honest and caring staff – managers, registered nurses, personal care attendants, as well as hospitality, reception and activities staff – who treat residents with respect and kindness.”

Russell argues that “aged care staff feel unheard”, and most research focuses on the negative aspects of working aged care.

The survey was conducted online and 394 aged care workers responded, the bulk of which (203) were PCAs/AINs, with an even number of RNs, ENs and managers. The respondents were evenly split between the for-profit and not-for-profit homes with a small number (17) responding from government-owned facilities.

What do you like?

“I like every aspect of my work as I get to spend time with the residents and to make sure they have a clean, homely environment. I help them in any way possible,” said one PCA/AIN in food services.

“Forming relationships with the residents is fun and interesting. Working as an AIN brings out the best in me,” said another.

The responses were broken down into the following sections: working with people, helping older people and their families transition into an aged care home, work environment, nature of the work providing care and support, resident-centred care, resources and end of life.

Forty-three per cent of participants said they had “meaningful interactions/connections” and enjoyed “spending time” with residents.

“I love working with the elderly. I love that the residents become part of our extended family and me and my colleagues a part of theirs. It is rewarding to make someone’s day,” said one RN.

Participants said they enjoyed helping residents’ transition into aged care and helping families feel comfortable is important.

“It is nice to see a resident that has entered care for the first time, often very unsure and anxious, finally come out of their shell and enjoy life,” said one aged care worker.

Participants said management plays a crucial role in creating a work environment they can enjoy, and others emphasised the importance of a team-feel among the workforce.

“Working with a team that actually cares for their residents and truly work as a team,” said one PCA/AIN. “I like working within a team that does everything physically possible to ensure we can provide the best care we can with so little staff,” said another.

Feeling that they are “making a difference”, “making a contribution”, and doing “worthwhile work” featured heavily in the responses.

“The opportunity to make a difference, no matter how small, in the day of the life of our resident,” said one RN, while one PCA/AIN said: “The care recipients have given so much in their lifetime. Now I can give back to them. If I can make them smile, I am achieving that.”

Participants in the survey also said that they enjoyed having fun with residents, dancing and laughing with them. “Although work is busy it’s also great fun,” said one manager.

Most participants said they enjoyed providing care and support, something which is sometimes obscured as we watch the royal commission.

“I enjoy looking after my residents and doing the best can to make them happy every day,” said one aged care worker.

“I’ve worked in aged care facilities for over 25 years. There’s been huge changes over the years. My biggest love is to see the residents and their families feeling safe and contented,” said another.

The view from the sector

LASA CEO Sean Rooney agrees with many of the findings and says the research shows why we must appreciate aged care staff.

“It is clear that our industry wants more staff. We want them to be appropriately skilled, qualified and remunerated,” he told Aged Care Insite.

“There’s a full workforce strategy that’s been prepared in consultation with older Australians, their families, workers, unions and providers that’s mapped out how we can actually deliver a good quality of care. In order to do that, we need to ensure that there’s enough resources, enough funding and support in the system to be able to deliver those outcomes.”

ACSA CEO Patricia Sparrow said that they welcome independent research such as Dr Russell’s, and that surveys like this can provide valuable insights which help in providing the best care possible.

“We agree that the specific factors Dr Russell identified as contributing to this outcome include person-centred care, access to health professionals, nutritious and delicious meals, a number of trained staff that range from registered and enrolled nurses to personal care attendants, hospitality, reception and activities staff.

“ACSA considers the important relationships, that human and person driven characteristics are what provides value to older Australians, and the concept of giving time for people is also key. We were proud to recently launch our dedicated storytelling platform Humans of Aged Care – aimed to give a stronger voice to the inspirational individuals that make up our sector and this important work,” said Sparrow.

OPAN CEO Craig Gear said: “What I really like about the findings in this research is that it shows the importance of respect and dignity for older people when delivering aged care. This report is such an important piece of work at this critical time for the aged care sector, and Dr Russell should be commended for undertaking this research. The respondents embody the essence of the Charter of Aged Care Rights. The attitude and skills of the aged care workforce are paramount to the provision of good aged care.”

Dr Russell was surprised at some of the positive replies the survey garnered and hopes the research can lead to greater transparency in the sector.

“I was pleasantly surprised at the high number of participants who would recommend the aged care home in which they work to their parents. Fifty per-cent responded either “definitely yes”, “probably yes” or “maybe”.  This provides evidence of the fact that good aged care homes exist,” she said.

“This report shows what all aged care homes should aspire to – creating the conditions in which staff not only enjoyed their work but also provided care that ensured residents had the highest quality of life possible.

“I also hope this research helps to garner support for Rebekha Sharkie’s Staffing Ratio Disclosure Bill. Good aged care homes have nothing to fear from transparency.”

“On Wednesday 7 August all Australians should say thank you to aged care workers and recognise the incredible contribution they make to the lives of older Australians,” said Sean Rooney.

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