The retirement village industry continues to face a staffing crisis and calls for staffing levels to be urgently reviewed and mandatory numbers to be introduced.

Owners and management of care facilities are well aware of the problem brought to national attention earlier in the year by the New Zealand Nurses Organisation and the E tu Union, but little has been done in government circles to deliver a fresh pipeline of highly skilled workers to beat the staffing shortage.

Currently, one in five aged care nurses are employed on a work visa, and the industry is relying heavily on overseas workers many of whom are both highly trained and motivated. The call from industry leaders is for the Government to step up and add registered nurses to the long-term skills shortage list.

The report from the two organisations followed a survey of aged care workers that showed the emotional and physical needs of elderly residents often went unmet because of staff shortages. Existing standards in the industry were first mooted in 2005 and even then, were inadequate. Now with a growing number of residents, the care needs are even greater.

The conference earlier this year where the report was presented heard from a number of the leading players in the aged care field who reported staff exhaustion and frustration.

One of the larger owners has commented that immigration laws and procedures had made recruiting overseas nurses extremely difficult while many of the New Zealand nurses were leaving aged care to take up higher-paid roles in public hospitals.

What is clear is that the funding model for aged care nurses was a key problem with many earning only a pittance more than their unqualified colleagues. What the Government is not seeing is the major increase in residential facilities and residents and that the outdated funding model is no longer applicable. The simple fact is that facility owners can’t afford to match current DHB pay rates and the situation will only worsen with the elderly being those to suffer.

The report from the two organisations, NZMO and E tu, revealed: “a broken system that endangered residents and took a heavy toll on nurses and caregivers.” The concern was to increase minimum staff numbers with reports stating some facilities were operating with a ratio of one staff member to every 10 residents, many of whose needs were more complex because of age.

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