The current crisis in the aged care workforce, further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, has seen issues of the critical nature of aged care come into play and a need for change at the highest organizational level. In this context we are talking about older people not only in residential care, but also those who require support to stay at home care or in independent living arrangements. As identified in the latest report from the Australian Aged Care Collaboration in January 2022, there have been approximately 13,500 new staff COVID-19 infection cases in the first month of January alone, and around half of aged care homes are dealing with active COVID-19 outbreaks, most in the first two months of 2022. As a consequence, the staff who remain are not only unable to manage and maintain infection control measures but also are unable to provide basic needs for those in their care, at either a physiological, safety or human connection level. This results in unbearable increased workload and stress for those who remain.
The attempt to alleviate the current crisis in aged care through a ‘one off’ retention payment only to care staff in residential care reflects a lack of understanding of the way our aged care workforce operates and the value it provides to society. In Australia a number of reports funded by both government and national bodies, including the report from the Royal Commission, have attempted to articulate real solutions to reframing an aged care workforce that values all staff, however we have now hit another wall.
How can we as a nation and society demonstrate that we care for and support our much-needed aged care workforce? Urgent short-term actions include recognizing the critical nature of aged care workers from both a state and federal perspective, increasing remuneration, transferring contractors to permanent staff, and financially rewarding qualifications and experience. These actions could catalyse longer term solutions so that staff contribution is valued and translates to higher wages that better reflect their ongoing contribution. In turn it will encourage many staff who are planning to leave aged care to stay on and attract new recruits.
Associate Professor Marguerite Bramble
President of AAG/Chair of AAG Board
09 Feb 2022
Who cares for the carers? A time for urgent action