The report, Who Cares? Attracting and Retaining Care Workers for the Elderly, draws attention to the poor pay and prospects of the profession, its physical and mental risks, and lack of training opportunities – all of which affect the length of time workers stay in the profession.
In New Zealand, the issue of safe staffing in aged care facilities is long-standing, as staff to resident ratios are not mandatory.
As shown in the OECD’s report, the median tenure estimated for staff across the sector in New Zealand is just 5 years.
An E tū delegate in a North Island aged care facility who wants to remain anonymous, said her experiences during COVID-19 have exacerbated the issues of an “already broken system”.
“The public would be horrified to know the everyday reality is not as it is depicted in the glossy brochures.
“Reality in my facility is a resident not missing just one shower, but not having a shower for almost three weeks. Reality is your loved one going hungry if there are not enough caregivers to help those that need assistance to eat,” said the delegate.
“If I was a family of a resident, I would be really concerned that staffing levels are simply not safe.”
During COVID-19, staff were under even more pressure as carers resigned over the lack of PPE or took leave as they felt their family circumstances posed a risk of introducing the virus into the care home.
The delegate said unsafe staffing levels are not only detrimental to residents, but also have a knock-on effect on the sector as a whole.
“Unless working conditions improve, staff will leave the sector and residents will lose the well-trained, qualified teams who work with them day-to-day to deliver the most personal of care and support services to ensure their overall wellbeing.”
E tū Director Sam Jones said New Zealand’s staffing standards, which were set down in 2005, are out-of-date and desperately need to be reviewed to accommodate the complex needs of residents.
“With almost three-quarters of COVID-19 deaths in New Zealand connected to residential aged care facilities, the pandemic has only re-emphasised the urgency of the situation for workers in the aged care sector, as we’ve seen in examples such as the tragic events at Rosewood in Christchurch.”
Jones said addressing staffing levels will also help to combat a potential worker shortage in future.
“We’re calling the Government to set minimum staffing numbers to protect both residents and carers, to ensure we are rebuilding better in the wake of COVID-19. This means prioritising community health and revitalising the sector by providing strong development opportunities and pay that reflects the vital work of caring for our elderly.”