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Hundreds of burnt out care staff and nurses are quitting across NSW. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Andrew Henshaw

‘Getting worse, not better’: Care worker speaks out

After 11 years of working in aged care, Donna Rowland has reached her limit.

The Victorian personal care worker is one of the hundreds across Australia struggling to meet elderly residents' basic care needs due to critical staffing shortages.

“I've got to the point where if people ask me about their parents coming in, say, ‘No, don't come in here. Don't come in,'” the 56-year-old told Aged Care Insite. 

“We're exhausted, we're getting injured, but the hardest thing is when you look at a resident and they're just so sad, and you can't spend five minutes just to sit down and talk to them.

“It's distressing.” 

Donna, who works for one of Geelong’s largest non-profit health organisations, says a decision to cut shifts from higher-ups has led to the plummeting care standards.

Under new rosters, residents are being left in their own feces and urine for hours, personal care workers are working without breaks, and residents are having to pull dirty laundry out of their hampers because they have nothing to wear.

“I know it has been like that in a lot of facilities for a long time, but we've gone from having such wonderful care levels to it being a penny-pinching operation,” said Donna.

“We don't have enough cleaners. Our rooms aren't clean. We are having to clean toilets and vacuum rooms and wash floors and things like that on top of everything else.”

Australia's aged care sector is struggling, with almost a quarter of shifts going unfilled each week, according to National Disability Services.

Surveys by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation have shown that 40 per cent of aged care nurses and carers are regularly working double shifts, with 20 per cent set to quit by next year.

Fed up with the horrific working conditions and cost-cutting, Donna says for the first time in over a decade, she is considering leaving her job.

“I went into this job thinking that I could make life a little bit better for some people, that I could make a bit of a difference,” she said. 

“It is impossible to make a difference and it's impossible to make someone's life better when you just don't have the time or the access to do that.

“After 11 years, it just seems to be getting worse, not better.”

Hundreds of aged care and disability staff have quit their jobs in the past month due to exhaustion and burnout.

HSU president Gerard Hayes recently told SBS that in January alone, the union lost 100 aged care staff in NSW.

“Conditions for both staff and residents are deteriorating rapidly as COVID cases in aged care continue to rise,” Hayes wrote in a press release.

“We are hearing horrific reports from our members. Some facilities are so short-staffed residents aren’t being showered for days. Others are experiencing food supply issues.

“The majority of staff are exhausted and many are quitting. It is an unmitigated catastrophe."

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One comment

  1. I fully understand Donna’s disheartening reflection and I ant to add my own experience and conclusion on the current shameful condition occurring in Aged Care settings. I have been nurse since 1984, all my working life; like Donna I decided to become a nurse because I wanted to make the difference in people lives and because I love working with people for people. I always believed that good care services delivery are the result of teamwork under the guide of positive and supportive leadership. I have worked in Europe, USA and since 2003 in Australia, last 17 years in management position. I never expected the work to be easy, not demanding and I have worked average of 10 to 14 hours a day without complaining, just happy for my team (care and hospitality) to be able to provide good services to our elderly. Since 2019 several events precipitates working in aged care to an impossible and dishuman level: the introduction of the new accreditation standards, so vague and unstructured that even the auditors do not know how to assess, creating confusion, stress and unnecessary over burdening documentation adding to the already excessive workload. The Royal Commission enquiry did bring to public attention the incredibly hard working condition health care workers are forced to endure and subsequent poor level of care. However the presentation of information to the public was rarely unbiased or presented in a comprehensive way, resulting in public witch hunting perpetrated against aged care health workers now labelled as abuser and incompetent. The Royal Commission recommendations were never followed by implementation of improvements and new policies by the current Government, but the plague and label remain. Finally the COVID-19 Pandemic did bring to an end any illusion about the possibility to provide good care and support to the elderly and their families or access to the basic resources to maintain the day-by-day run of a facility. Lack or delay of guidance from local, State and Commonwealth guideline, unreadiness at senior organisation level in providing support and consultation, equipment not available, staff recruitment and retention difficulty to a level never experienced in 40 years of practice across Countries…The list is endless. I have built a remarkable clinical and managerial experience over decades spent in nursing and several years left to bring my contribution before retirement. I realised towards the end of last year that I had brought myself to complete exhaustion, “burnout”; I had no choice than leave the profession and acknowledge that despite I still love nursing and feeling disheartened for what is happening to our elderly and colleagues. I lost confidence in the authorities and the ability of the Government to represent and advocate for the people.

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