QUEENSLAND aged care providers are cutting frontline aged care staff from private facilities throughout the state at a time when they are needed most.
Queensland Nurses and Midwives’ Union (QNMU) Secretary Beth Mohle said in a disturbing development, private aged care providers including Blue Care and TriCare were slashing frontline staff and greatly reducing hours of care for elderly residents.
Ms Mohle said adverse changes were occurring rapidly at a growing number of Queensland facilities – seemingly without consultation with residents or their families. She said cuts of this scale could impact pandemic response and visitors, staff and resident checks.
These include 28 Blue Care facilities state-wide, TriCare’s Mount Gravatt Aged Care Facility and Sunnybank Hills Aged Care Residence, a number of Bolton Clarke facilities and the independent Sunnymeade Park Retirement Village Caboolture. Queensland provider PresCare recently received a $650,000 federal government emergency payout and announced plans to sell five Queensland facilities. The cuts and changes include redundancies, reduced hours and position downgrades for a number of Clinical Care Nurses (CNCs), Registered Nurses (RNs), Enrolled Nurses (ENs), Assistants in Nursing (AiNs) and Personal Carers (PCs).
The QNMU has requested urgent clarification and details from providers including Blue Care and TriCare regarding the number of jobs, hours and positions to be cut. The QNMU is actively fighting these cuts. The QNMU is currently representing 18 members on either Blue Care redundancies or position downgrades and will appear in the Fair Work Commission (FWC) at 3pm.
She said rolling state-wide cuts were being made despite the ongoing pandemic, additional funding from the Federal Government and the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. The cuts could impact the quality of life of thousands of elderly Queenslanders. The QNMU called on those with a loved one in care to check with management regarding staff levels at their facility.
“The QNMU is gravely concerned for the wellbeing of thousands of elderly Queensland residents in impacted facilities,’’ Ms Mohle said.
“As such, we have referred the proposed cuts to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, to the federal Minister for Ageing Richard Colbeck for urgent action and have advised the Aged Care Royal Commission of this extremely disturbing development.
“Any federal failure to intervene will result in potentially life-threatening reduced care for vulnerable Queenslanders.’’
It’s understood staff impacted are not surge or excess COVID-19 staff – as very few facilities put on any additional staff during the pandemic.
Ms Mohle said private aged care providers should be held to account. She said Australia’s estimated 900 private aged care providers had received more than $66 billion in federal taxpayer funds since mid-2014 - and should be able to provide quality care.
Queensland’s 400-plus private aged care facilities and more than 2000 private facilities nation-wide are the responsibility of the federal government.
She said it was believed some providers might try to blame low occupancy linked to COVID-19 or financial hardship for the proposed cuts.
“I suggest Queenslanders take these claims with a grain of salt,’’ Ms Mohle said.
“While we note some small or regional providers may be experiencing financial hardship, we believe a number of private providers may simply be attempting to further reduce staff in a bid to boost profit or surplus.’’
On top of more than $66 billion federal tax dollars, an additional federal government emergency aged care allocation of $205 million was announced in May. Private aged care providers also receive a fortnightly direct debit of up to $750 per resident per fortnight and an initial bed deposit from each resident of up to $500,000.
Blue Care have also been able to access the Job Keeper payment during COVID.
“Australian private aged care providers do not publicly have to report these funds are spent,’’ Ms Mohle said.
“Until we have in place robust mechanisms to ensure taxpayer funding is tied to the care being provided, and there is a transparent system of public reporting no one can be expected to have confidence in claims of underfunding.’’
Blue Care have failed to provide adequate information to staff or the QNMU – at one point blaming a broken printer for not providing information around proposed redundancies. The QNMU has referred the matter to the Fair Work Commission (FWC). The QNMU has also requested additional information and consultation from TriCare. The QNMU has also referred Bolton Clarke proposed limitations on staff working arrangements to the Federal Court of Australia (FCA). The QNMU will continue to represent members on these matters.
Ms Mohle said Blue Care and some other private providers had a long pre-COVID history of attempting to cut already dangerously low staff levels state-wide. In Australia, this is not illegal as there are no federal government laws in place to govern minimum staff levels for the nation’s 2000-plus private aged care facilities. At present there is no requirement even one Registered Nurse (RN) be on site at any time.
The QNMU and federal body the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) have long campaigned for the introduction of mandated minimum staff levels to protect elderly Australians in aged care. Evidence around this has been provided to the Aged Care Royal Commission. However, the federal government has repeatedly refused to introduce minimum federal staffing laws for Australian private aged care facilities. As such, Australia’s private aged care providers are free to staff, or cut staff, however they see fit. Adverse resident outcomes linked to aged care staffing levels are not recorded or publicly reported in Australia.
The QNMU immediately seeks a minimum one Registered Nurse (RN) on site at all times – as well as improved transparency around and public reporting about how Australia’s 2000-plus private aged care providers spend the federal funds they receive. Ms Mohle said the federal government needed to take responsibility for the facilities under their care.
“Queensland nurses know these cuts could have devastating impacts on the vulnerable elderly Queenslanders,’’ Ms Mohle said.
“Around the state, hard-working and already over stretched front line aged care staff are being shown the door after years of service. These staff have worked around the clock during the pandemic to protect those in their care. Who will be left to ensure residents are safe?
“The QNMU will not let this matter rest.’’