Staff at Southern Cross Care’s regional aged care facilities have been forced out after refusing to have a COVID-19 vaccine.

Key points:

  • Six aged care workers who weren’t willing to get vaccinated have lost their jobs
  • Southern Cross Care Broken Hill CEO Zoe Tonkin says the situation is “heartbreaking”
  • A nurses union delegate says the staff will be hard to replace

The federal government made it mandatory for all aged care staff, volunteers and students on placement to have received at least one dose by September 17.

As a result of the government order, four Southern Cross employees from three locations in Broken Hill and two staff from a Mildura facility are leaving, accounting for around 1.5 per cent of its 375-person workforce.

“It definitely wasn’t something that we instigated,” Southern Cross Care Broken Hill chief executive Zoe Tonkin said.

“It’s been made legislation, so we’ve had no choice but to follow the guidelines and rules set out for us.

Southern Cross Care Broken Hill front

All other workers at Southern Cross Care Broken Hill are on track to be fully vaccinated.(

ABC Broken Hill: Jonathon Poulson

)

Ms Tonkin said while the departing workers were only a small percentage of total staff, “everyone plays a big part in what we do and how we do it”.

“So no matter what size the percentage is, it has a significant impact,” she said.

“We’ve prepared for it as much as we could, but it’s like losing part of your family … everybody feels it, the residents and the staff all feel it.

“And of course that poor person that’s worked in a job, some for many, many years now, having to start a new chapter of their life sort of forcibly.”

According to government data as of Tuesday, 98 per cent of residential aged care workers nationally are reported as having received one jab; 80 per cent of workers are fully vaccinated.

Facilities left to fill the vacancies

Ms Tonkin said it was heartbreaking to have to fire experienced workers in an industry that struggled to recruit.

“Anyone that works in aged care does it because they’re passionate about it, and it’s a special person that works in our industry,” she said.

Southern Cross Care will have to begin the search for new employees to cover the vacancies left by the departing staff.

“For all the same reasons people stay in aged care, it’s a hard industry to recruit to; you’ve got to have a passion for it, you’ve got to love it, it’s not for everybody, it’s really hard work,” Ms Tonkin said.

“It’s definitely not part of any position description I signed up for, this whole COVID business, and it’s definitely challenged every part of our wellbeing both personal and worklife-related, so it’s a tough time.”

Christine Spangler at nurses union walk for better conditions in Broken Hill

Christine Spangler says the staff will be hard to replace.(

ABC Broken Hill: Jonathon Poulson

)

Vaccine mandate similar to flu jab

Christine Spangler from Broken Hill is a union delegate for the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association for Aged Care and said the departing staff had valuable experience that would not be easily replaced.

“It is a sad loss to lose staff with such experience, but it’s their personal point of views and what can do you?” she said.

Ms Spangler said the COVID-19 vaccination mandate was comparable to when the elderly were shielded last year with the mandatory flu vaccination.

“It’s just the way it is I think.”

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Regional aged care staff sacked after refusing COVID vaccine
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