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Aged care provider Whiddon Care has rural facilities that can't find enough staff to meet the new requirement. Picture: News Regional Media/News Corp Australia.

Rural homes struggling to prepare for 24/7 nurses

Rural and regional aged care facilities say they are still grappling with acquiring enough nurses to fill the 24/7 nurse deadline due to start this week.

The mandate, due to start 1 July, requires every aged care home in the country to have a registered nurse on-call and on-duty 24 hours for seven days.

Regional and rural homes, however, said they were finding it hard to meet the deadline due to nationwide staffing shortages.

Whiddon's chief Chris Mamarelis said the homes are trying to hire as many nurses as possible but are still falling short.

"It takes an average of two months to find a registered nurse, and in places like Moree, Bourke, Wee Waa, and Narrabri, it can go on for six months," Mr Mamarelis said.

Earlier this year, Aged Care Minister Anika Wells admitted that 'thousands of aged care homes' were still short-staffed before the nursing deadline.

During a conference, Minister Wells said homes will not be forced to meet the deadline, and no homes will be penalised.

Only 5 per cent will be eligible for exemptions, which the government will give to small residential facilities with fewer than 30 approved beds located in Modified Monash Model (MMM) 5 to 7 areas.

Whiddon has already applied for some homes to be exempt, but Mr Mamarelis said that if considerable reform did not happen, nothing would change.

"Unless we see a real significant intake of overseas workers and overseas nurses, we're going to be seeing the same issues," Mr Mamarelis said.

"We need continued growth in rates of pay, improved tax incentives to see people work in the regions, and the government making major reforms and working closely with providers."

Mr Mamarelis assured that Whiddon aged care homes will not be closed after the 12-month grace period. 

"The government has indicated they'll be understanding as long as providers were making every effort to find nursing staff," he said.

"If that collaborative approach is there, then we think we'll be able to move forward."

Mr Mamarelis said it was "ludicrous" there was competition between NSW Health, state hospitals and aged care, despite serving the same community.

"The 15 per cent increase has made pay rates more competitive," he said.

"But NSW Health continues to offer larger incentives to attract registered nurses, and that’s taking away from our aged care homes.

"We've called for a collaborative approach and a partnership since the beginning of the pandemic, but we aren’t seeing any signs of that changing."

Mr Mamarelis has called on the government to provide further help to providers in regional and rural areas, with incentives such as tax breaks or quicker processes for overseas workers.

“Providing people with more tax incentives and tax breaks for workers who relocate to the regions," he said.

"They’ve also got to speed up the intake of overseas workers to make it more efficient so we can streamline people and get them looking after our elderly as soon as possible."

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