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Issue #1926      August 3, 2020

Pandemic failures in aged care revealed in survey

United Workers’ Union Statement

Pandemic failures in aged care revealed in survey; workers feel “unprepared, untrained, unsafe.”

Shocking gaps in coronavirus preparations by aged care providers have been revealed in a new national survey of more than 1,000 aged care workers.

The survey also shows lockdowns and other coronavirus measures have seriously affected aged care workers and the residents they care for, with staff shortages, increased workloads, and some residents not seen for whole days at a stretch.

Results from the United Workers’ Union survey show large gaps in aged care pandemic preparations:

  • Three in ten residential aged care workers said they had received no additional training in coronavirus safety measures or on correctly using personal protective equipment.
  • More than two thirds of aged care workers do not feel very prepared to deal with a coronavirus outbreak.
  • Four in ten workers feel their aged care facility has not communicated their infection plan well.
  • One in three home care workers said they did not have enough supplies of hand sanitiser and gloves.
  • Only one in ten home care workers said they had been given a contactless thermometer.

The survey reveals workers struggling with staff shortages and increased workloads since the outbreak:

  • Two-thirds of residential care workers and one half of home care workers say their workloads have increased since the pandemic.
  • Seventy-five per cent of workers say they don’t have enough staff to provide quality care.
  • Eight out of ten aged care workers say they always or often don’t have the time to provide the social and emotional support to those they care for (up from seven out of ten last year).
  • Ninety per cent of aged care workers said they did not have enough time to complete tasks (about the same as last year).
  • Forty-four per cent of aged care workers said they would be unlikely to be working in the sector in five years’ time (up from thirty-seven per cent last year).

The survey raises structural issues that make stopping coronavirus and keeping aged care staff challenging:

  • Nine out of ten aged care workers said they could not afford to take unpaid leave.
  • Nine out of ten aged care workers are worried their colleagues may have to work if they have mild symptoms because of a lack of leave.
  • Only sixteen per cent of workers report their providers have offered some form of paid pandemic sick leave.
  • Aged care workers report staff shortages occur because shifts are not filled when people do take coronavirus-related leave.
  • Only one in ten workers said they felt more valued since the onset of the pandemic.
  • More than half of frontline care workers say the federal government’s controversial retention bonus has had no impact on retaining them in the industry.

Survey reveals exhausted workers unable to help those they care for:

United Workers Union aged care director Carolyn Smith said the findings confirmed the dire conditions facing aged care workers nationally during the pandemic.

“Aged care workers have revealed they feel unprepared, untrained and unsafe in the face of this pandemic, which is a damning indictment on national preparations to protect Australia’s most vulnerable people,” Smith said.

“The public has a right to be very concerned that workers feel unable to take leave if they are suffering minor symptoms because there is no financial safety net for them.

“What is also shocking is that in these known hotspots for coronavirus transmission, workers report less staff, more work and less ability to care for those they care for.

“The federal government’s band-aid solutions for pandemic staffing in the sector – including the under-whelming retention bonus – have clearly not worked.

“In our submission to the Royal Commission on the impact of COVID-19, we are again calling on the federal government to fund aged care in a way that recognises the crisis in aged care, and tie that funding to improving workers’ wages and conditions.”

Workers reveal the despair they face when dealing with the impacts of coronavirus:

“We wake them up, put them in a chair, all day with no visitors, no extra staff and put them back to bed 8 hours later, with staff hardly getting a chance to talk to them. The reason I’d leave aged care is because it’s not really care, I feel like a robot.”

“Some residents are going all day without staff even entering their rooms as there isn’t enough of us.”

“Residents being restricted to either their own room or lodge have created many more behaviours and along with residents wanting more one-on-one attention, personal carers are stretched to give any quality of care.”

Aged care worker and United Workers’ Union member Jay from Queensland says:

“Residents really needed support from staff. They got stressed, anxious and other stuff because they couldn’t see their families. We had to become their friends and families.

“We did not get personal training about COVID-19, it was online. Half of the people didn’t even know there was training. We still need that to happen.”

Aged care worker and United Workers’ Union member Mel from Western Australia says:

“There’s a lot more expectations – we have had to be more vigilant about times when family members are allowed in or allowed out; that’s all extra work we had to take on.

“People were quite upset; families were quite upset. It took a toll on the staff as well.

“If we were to be really under the pump, we would struggle big time. That would be the case in most facilities, because we don’t have the training and we don’t have the staff to deal with the very unwell.”

Home care worker and United Workers Union member Karen from NSW says:

“It’s been so stressful, we go into someone’s house with a series of safety questions but they may have dementia and not be able to answer them.

“We sometimes have to buy our own PPE. We are under a hell of a stress out on the frontline, in the community, while we see the rest of the company are safely working from home. Makes us feel a bit unappreciated.”

About the survey:

The survey was conducted in May and June, with responses from every state and territory predominantly made up of United Workers’ members in Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia (residential) and NSW (home care).

Next article – Resist the war drive

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