South Australian carer Brigitte gets emotional at the thought of her residents not receiving the care they pay for and deserve.
“You just end up cutting corners on the floor. You don’t want to but some care is missed,” she says.“Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I feel like I’m in the wrong job. A lot of us feel the same way. It’s not just me. We feel frustrated. Those of us that do care and feel passionately about this, it really bothers us.”
Brigitte works across most units at a large not-for-profit aged care facility that holds 185 residents at full capacity. Residents have varying levels of mobility and care needs, with carers like Brigitte typically allocated around 10 people on a morning shift.
A registered nurse supervises care delivery across three units in the facility and is responsible for up to 100 residents, with one enrolled nurse per unit administering medication to about 35 residents.
If call bells go unanswered in a timely manner, management imposes disciplinary action by requiring enrolled and registered nursing staff to undergo reflective practice sessions, intensifying pressure from nurses on duty.
Brigitte says one of the most upsetting aspects of day-to-day care is being unable to cater to residents’ needs properly. “I hate telling people that they have to wait to go to the toilet when they may not have been toileted since they got up at 7 o’clock in the morning and it’s now 1pm and they’re busting. I hate telling them to wait because there’s only two of us and we are going as fast as we can.”
A passionate workplace delegate, Brigitte has worked in aged care for 15 years and says the crisis facing the sector has reached breaking point. She believes unsafe staffing levels continue to compromise care and the residents’ basic needs. com
“I think safe staffing and skills mix is the biggest issue. Ratios need to be legislated and made mandatory,” Brigitte says. “It’s important for the residents. It’s important for the care we are delivering and to ensure their complex medical and nursing needs are being met correctly. It’s so important for all staff who work in this sector.
“But most of all it’s important for those dear people who wake up every morning and sit there waiting for somebody to come and help them. There is no time to stop and actually talk to them which is all some of them ask for.”
Brigitte, 52, says the aged care workforce is struggling to cope with rising demands and many take sick leave to cope with fatigue and emotional burnout.
“In some of our really high-care areas, because of my age probably, I can manage two or three nights in a row or two or three shifts in a row and then physically my body just won’t do it.”
Brigitte has two subjects to complete to qualify as a registered nurse after studying at the University of South Australia, and was recently voted onto the ANMF (SA Branch) Council.
In her leadership role, she is hoping to provide a voice for fellow aged care workers rallying against unsafe conditions. In her early days in the sector, Brigitte recalls having her good days and bad days but always feeling sufficiently resourced and able to provide person-centred care.
Rooms were tidy, residents’ fingernails were trimmed, and they were provided with clean glasses and clean clothing. “You had your good days and your bad days depending on how your residents were but at least I knew when I left at the end of the day that I’d made a difference and cared as best I could. Now I just hope I make a difference.”
Brigitte suggests fixing the age care crisis rests with the federal government. “They used to make facilities accountable for the budget that they were being given. They used to have to be accountable for how they spent that and they used to have to spend that on care. Somewhere along the way, that system was diminished. They don’t have to justify that so they don’t spend money on care anymore.
“Now it’s profits versus people and our residents tell us they have seen the change for the worse and they worry about us.” Despite hurdles, Brigitte remains positive about the aged care sector and says she will continue to fight for residents and the workforce.
“We’re becoming an ageing society. I would hate to think that all these beautiful people that have lived and laughed and loved and helped create our nation to where we are now are just going to be these vulnerable members of society that are forgotten and remain voiceless.”