QUEENSLAND private aged care providers are continuing to cut aged care staff in the lead up to the anniversary of the Earle Haven aged care crisis tomorrow. (Saturday 11 July 2020)
Queensland Nurses and Midwives’ Union (QNMU) Secretary Beth Mohle said QNMU members continued to report staff cuts and hour reductions from major private aged care providers despite tomorrow’s Earle Haven anniversary, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and intense media scrutiny. A Royal Commission into Aged Care is also underway.
Ms Mohle said in recent days and weeks Blue Care had cut or downgraded more than 28 Clinical Care Nurses (CNCs), Registered Nurses (RNs), Enrolled Nurses (ENs), Assistants in Nursing (AiNs) and Personal Carers (PCs). TriCare have also slashed over 800 hours of care per fortnight at one site alone.
Others cuts and changes have been reported at Bolton Clarke, Opal Aged Care, Ozcare and Sunnymeade Park Retirement Village Caboolture.
“Every nurse cut from this already depleted work force will increase the likelihood of elderly residents experiencing unnecessary pain, suffering and premature death,’’ Ms Mohle said.
“Nurses know chronic understaffing means elderly Australians are experiencing malnutrition, dehydration, falls, long waits to be changed, to receive medication or to be showered as well as increased isolation and depression. We have real concerns regarding COVID-19 also.
“Cutting already low nurse numbers is unbelievable. During a pandemic it should ignite outrage.’’
Ms Mohle said QNMU members had reported some cuts were made or planned during the peak of COVID-19.
“The QNMU has received a report that some cuts were made or planned in the midst of COVID-19 - during lock down and at a time when elderly residents needed staff the most,’’ Ms Mohle said.
“This was also a time when private aged care in Australia received an additional $205 million in federal government funding to boost staff numbers, provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and perform infection control training.”
Queensland’s largest aged care provider Blue Care, part of UnitingCare Queensland, this week described the decision to cut or downgrade more than 28 nurses and other staff as a “very small number of adjustments…”
“How can Blue Care executives say these changes don’t matter? There is a disconnect here between what matters to staff, residents and their family and what management believes is important. This is also fundamentally a values disconnect,” Ms Mohle said.
On 14 October 2019, pre-COVID-19, the Aged Care Royal Commission’s interim report found more than 50 per cent of Australian private aged care facilities were dangerously understaffed.
When the Earle Haven aged care shut down occurred on 11 July 2019, only one Registered Nurse (RN) was on site to provide care for 68 high-need residents. The shutdown occurred following a financial dispute between the owner and the company subcontracted to provide care at the facility.
Close to 70 elderly residents were left homeless and had to be evacuated overnight. A federal investigation handed down 23 recommendations. It’s not known if the recommendations have been put in place. For more information contact Federal Minister for Ageing Richard Colbeck on (02) 6277 7720.
In a startling development, the Courier Mail recently reported Queensland aged care provider PresCare received a silent $650,000 bail out during COVID-19. The Courier Mail reported PresCare now pan to sell five Queensland aged care facilities. In a situation similar to the Earle Haven crisis, it’s not believed paying residents or their families were informed of the financial difficulties.
A QNMU member and former Earle Haven nurse, who now works across a number of private aged care facilities, said conditions were dire for elderly Queenslanders. The experienced nurse, who did not want to be named for fear of retribution from private aged care providers, said every night elderly, high-need residents were forced to wait for help.
“The buzzers go constantly yet we are so desperately understaffed we simply cannot get there straight away,’’ she said.
“These residents might have fallen, they might need pain medication, they might be feeling unwell or sitting there soiled and waiting to be changed. The few staff rostered on for sometimes more than 90 high-care residents do their best, they work unpaid overtime to complete their rounds, but the conditions are deplorable.
“The aged care system in Australia has gone so far down the wrong path, they now blame the staff if something goes wrong, not those in charge of providing enough staff. It is heartbreaking and horrible and yet aged care nurses and carers continue to try.’’
The nurse said she hadn’t seen a face mask or other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in an aged care facility in months. She said she did not know where the $205 million in emergency federal funding, provided in early May, had gone. She said she was shocked to learn Australia’s estimated 900 private aged care providers had received more than $66 billion in federal taxpayer dollars since 2014. They don’t have to publicly report how the funds are spent.
“I simply cannot believe these providers have received that much money from taxpayers because they are certainly not spending it on staff, food or masks and gloves,’’ she said.
The QNMU was on site throughout the Earle Haven shutdown and weeks that followed to assist members and residents. The QNMU continues to receive, document and refer reports of Queensland cuts and hour reductions. These cuts and changes are being reported to the federal Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck, the Royal Commission into Aged Care, The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, state government authorities and the media.
Ms Mohle said the time for federal government action was now.