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Is aged care understaffed? Experts say yes

The coronavirus pandemic has shone a light on the persistent issues that plague the aged care sector, none more so than staffing levels.

A report released last year by the Royal Commission and researched by academics from the University of Wollongong found that 57.6 per cent of all Australian aged care residents live in homes that are understaffed.

The research found that Australia lags behind comparable nations such as the UK, New Zealand and even the US.

As the COVID-19 crisis hit the aged care sector and lockdowns were enforced nationwide, staff were placed under immense pressure, and experts believe that if aged care is to improve, more staff is a must.

Aged Care Insite spoke with Professor Kathy Eagar, director of the Australian Health Services Research Institute at UOW. Eagar and her colleagues authored the research and have recently released an article based on their findings titled, bluntly, ‘Australian Residential Aged Care is Understaffed’.

AgedCareInsite · Kathy Eagar || Is Australian aged care understaffed?

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  1. We have known for many years that Residential Aged Care is grossly understaffed as the Commonwealth funding does not properly equate care needs with numbers of staff to do the caring. When facilities try to maximise funding, validators do not undertake their audits fairly. They look at documentation then interview residents to validate what has been claimed. What they don’t take into consideration is residents’ cognitive functioning levels. Many residents have degrees of short term memory loss who have not yet been diagnosed with dementia, so their answers to questions from validators are often not accurate as to the exact level of care they receive.
    Having worked in the Aged Care industry for many years, I have seen this scenario repeated countless times.

    • I support the above wholeheartedly. The new standards even make it more difficult. Not that I am complaining about the standards in themselves, but the extra attention expected cannot be achieved under the current funding levels. My staff want to spend more quality time engaging with residents but they cannot because we are not funded to allow them that time.

    • I’ve heard a validator walk into our facility and say “Hi, we’re here to take money from you.” Direct quote.
      Yes, we reported to their supervisor. No, nothing was done about it.

  2. I have nursed and managed aged care for many years.
    Experience shows when more Registered Nurses are employed Resident care improves.
    Less falls, skin tears, incontinence, constipation, dehydration, restraint issues, confusion, pressure areas,leg oedema, medication issues.

    Why? Because the RN is giving the resident direct nursing care assisting in personal care and nursing care are and not sitting in the office writing reports unaware of what is happening on the floor.
    Care staff working with the RNs gain more experience and learn more about the resident.

    The RNs say they enjoy working with the residents and care staff.

    Care staff because they do not know, will follow the staff who has been working in the Nursing Home the longest. They do exactly what they did the day before and do not question or observe and sometimes do not report changes in the resident. They do the best they know.

    Look at the staffing in a public hospital ward. The RN is caring for a few patients and not the complete floor.
    I promote less care staff with more RNs working in smaller areas.
    Properly staffed the costing of registered staff is the same as having many care staff and one RN on the floor. The floor is broken up into smaller areas for the RN.

    An RN observes and prevents problems and lessens problems from becoming a catastrophe.

    I have always roistered my staff this way. It works, the RN’s love it because they are involved in full care.
    The cost is comparable.

  3. Rosemary Oates RN RMN RGerN DNA

    Well said Polly !!!!! – you are absolutely right …..it has been proven over & over again that the more skilled staff are, the better they are at actually managing the time available.

    Older residents are now remaining at home for much longer & so…. by the time they require care it is very much more complex, requiring highly skilled & committed staff.

    It’s not all about funding, it’s about ensuring that all the available resources are utilised properly.

    I too, have had many years working in the area of aged care – and continue this work…….the key to good care is very much the proper management of staff allocation as well as all the resources, with the Manager needing to get out & about & actually see how well, or otherwise the care services are being delivered.

    It is impossible to manage from behind a desk tapping a computer all day or…….even having numerous meetings!!!