The Guardian • Issue #1995

ADF deployed to band-aid aged care crisis

  • by E Lennon
  • The Guardian
  • Issue #1995

Staff shortages across the aged care sector continue to sink the industry into a deepening crisis.

The Australian Government has announced that 1700 Australian Defence Force personnel will be called to step in and provide essential support.

“The ADF is not a shadow workforce and cannot replace skilled aged care workers,” a statement from the Australian Government reads.

“But they will assist across facilities including logistics and general duties tasks. For example, screening of entrants to facilities, providing companionship to residents, supporting with meals and other non-direct care functions to take the pressure off qualified aged care workers and medical staff. Where they are medically qualified, ADF personnel will assist with those duties.”

The government rejects the notion that the military is a shadow workforce; however, it’s unclear what the army is if not a shadow workforce, if this is the case. This decision to parachute military personnel into the system is a desperate measure from the government to patch up its weak COVID-19 response strategy.

The decision comes after weeks of unions calling on the government to deploy the ADF.

The Morrison Government has been facing waning support as issues and scandals stack up around the Liberal Party. As well as the move to deploy the army, the government has announced that workers in the aged care sector will receive a bonus payment.

The United Workers’ Union has welcomed the payments, but says it won’t fix underlying issues.

“The aged care industry is at absolute breaking point, and I am not sure these bonuses will fix the systemic issues in the industry,” United Workers Union Aged Care Director, Carolyn Smith said.

“Aged care workers are struggling with low pay, understaffing and the poor rollout of COVID-19 response by Scott Morrison. The fact that workers are still not receiving regular RATs and adequate PPE is indicative of the Federal Government’s failure in this area.

“Although we do welcome Scott Morrison’s admission that aged care wages need to be substantially improved, something we have been saying for a long time now.”

The government’s neglect of the sector stretches back further than just the pandemic. In the 2018 commission into the aged care sector, these fault lines were already being exposed.

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety shocked many Australians with its horrific findings. The revelations revealed cases of elderly people suffering neglect, mistreatment, and overall poor working conditions. The Royal Commission’s investigation was hardly groundbreaking for the many residents, workers, and concerned families experiencing this reality.

Commissioner Lynelle Briggs was appointed to the commission in 2018. Briggs made recent comments that the Morrison Government had failed to implement an affective strategy for elderly care and protection during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What we’re looking at in aged care is months on end with no-one visiting them, and sometimes dying alone,” Briggs told the ABC.

“It really shouldn’t be allowed to happen, and the government should have sorted its strategy out for how to prevent this happening again.”

The conditions in the industry shocked the public with its initial findings. Since then, care for the elderly has deteriorated even further, and workers are being pushed to their absolute limits. These heartbreaking stories about residents dying alone, and carers being forced to make impossible decisions highlight the very human cost of political ineptitude.

The Royal Commission made several recommendations, which included the creation of “a new aged care act which supports the ability for elderly people to live meaningful lives and maintain independence.”

According to the 2021-2022 Federal Budget, “the Australian Government will invest $26.7 million to develop and introduce a new Aged Care Act” in response to the recommendation. It’s unclear what progress towards this goal that the appointed taskforce has made to bring about the change. Government documentation suggests that there will need to be interim reform to existing legislation while the act is drafted.

Minister for Aged Care Services, Richard Colbeck told the Select Senate Committee on COVID-19 that, “I don’t accept that the system is in complete crisis.”

Earlier in January, Minister Colbeck demonstrated a flagrant disregard for the crisis he refuses to acknowledge. The minister declined a request for his attendance to the Select Senate Committee on COVID-19. Instead, Colbeck took the day for a trip to the Ashes test match. The minister’s decision showed a complete disconnect from what should be of the utmost priority to his portfolio.

Minister Colbeck apologised in the wake of his day out. Though, it was revealed that the reason he gave for declining the request to attend was that he was dealing with the Omicron outbreak.

“On the days of the test match I wasn’t just at the cricket,” Colbeck told the Committee.

“I was actually working the problems with the officials in the department to work to manage the issues in aged care, so it wasn’t one thing or the other, I was actually working on both.”

It’s debatable that Minister Colbeck could really have been committed fully to dealing with the outbreak if he ignored a key government committee meeting on the matter. This choice from a Morrison Government minister is another slight to the those being cared for and the workers not just in aged care, but across the health and other care industries.

From the start of Omicron taking a hold, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was “for pushing through” rather than going into lockdowns. What Morrison failed to see was that allowing COVID-19 into the community did not have to mean ravaged health and aged care systems. It did not have to mean thousands of infected workers and residents. It did not need to lead to the number of daily deaths that Australia has been seeing. The first month of 2022, was deadlier for aged care residents than the entirety of last year. These elderly residents do not deserve to live their final stage of life in these conditions. Carers in the industry do not deserve to work in these conditions.

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