Registered nurse Jocelyn Hofman starts crying when she describes what it is like to work in aged care.
“It upsets me because I have dedicated my life to aged care, but my work is being devalued,” she says.
In Ms Hofman’s 34 years in the sector, she’s seen nurse-to-resident ratios plummet.
It’s just one of many areas of concern highlighted in last year’s Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.
While it’s been an opportunity for many in the industry to be held to account, spare a thought for the workers who are still struggling to provide basic care to residents.
Ms Hofman is also noticing elderly people entering aged care older, sicker, frailer and with more complex medication regimes than ever before.
To cut costs, aged care providers have replaced many nursing staff with personal care assistants who are paid less and aren’t required to have a formal qualification.
Ms Hofman, who is also on the council of the New South Wales nursing union, says with fewer nurses on staff, elderly residents can face delays in getting clinical care and end up in hospital.
The federal government is expected to provide a comprehensive response to the Aged Care Royal Commission’s damning report in the federal budget.
But the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) is concerned the government won’t fund the commission’s recommended mandated nursing ratios and skills mix.
Ms Hofman’s message to the government is simple: “It is time to stop dragging your feet.”
She says any new funding must be transparent and targeted at staffing.
“They should care, because this defines them as a nation. It could be you, it could be your mother or father.”
“How can inspire the aged care workforce of tomorrow if we don’t fix this now?”
‘It’s depressing, a continual fight’
Registered nurse and nursing union member Rebecca Woodfield has clocked up a quarter of a century working in aged care, and currently works as a manager.
Ms Woodfield says without dedicated aged care staff working extra hours unpaid, residents would not even get basic care.
“It is demoralising, I know I want to do so much more, I know the staff I work with want to do so much more,” she says.
“It’s depressing and a continual fight.”
Recently she was told about a facility where one personal care assistant was required to administer medication for 50 residents.
“There are so many issues with that,” she said.
She gets emotional when asked to reflect on why she continues to work in the industry under such difficult conditions — she stays because of the residents.
“These people have paid their taxes all their lives, just because they are ill and unable to care for themselves shouldn’t mean they lose out.
“I am passionate about this. It is the only holistic nursing out there, it is a great area to work in, we just need a bit of help.”
Care sectors ‘no different to roads and tunnels’
Economist Leonora Risse says helping female-dominated caring industries to thrive would boost the economy.
She describes the federal government’s last budget as “blindingly high vis and hard hats” and is calling for more investment in what she calls caring infrastructure.
“Consider how these care sector services are no different to roads, bridges and tunnels. They support the rest of the economy to thrive,” she says.
“By investing more in those sectors, you are freeing up more workers to participate and apply those skills. These industries are enablers for all other workers across all other industries.”
She argues that equality won’t be achieved by making women be more like men.
‘No time to just chat’
Enrolled nurse and ANMF work site representative Adam Weaver wanted to work in aged care because he wanted to make a difference in the lives of elderly Australians.
He’s worked in the sector for 18 years and has noticed a decline in care, staffing ratios, lifestyle and activities for residents.
“Imagine you’re 85 years old, and you wake at 7am, and you have 15 minutes to get ready and go to the shower and go to the toilet. Things are rushed and missed,” he says.
“There is no time to just chat. No time to be one-on-one with residents.”
As well as mandating staffing ratios, the ANMF also wants the government to fund 10-15 per cent wage increase for all aged care workers to better protect and retain quality staff.
“People don’t understand how hard it is. You have to physically do stuff for people, rolling, showering, cleaning people, you become very attached to these people as well,” Mr Weaver says.
He says every Australian should care about the state of aged care.
“This is our future, this is what people have to look forward to,” he says.