Aged care staff cop the blame for vaccine bungling
The Morrison government has used aged care workers as scapegoats for low vaccination rates.
Aged care assistant in nursing Janine Quinn believes the Morrison government’s decision to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for nursing home staff was designed to shift attention away from the government’s own vaccination failures.
The government announced in June that all residential aged care workers must get at least a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by mid-September.
This was an exercise in “blame shifting” said Janine, who is president of the Mercy Place Albury Branch of the NSWNMA.
“The COVID-19 vaccination rollout has been a classic case of “too little, too late”. The government is desperate because they know they’ve mucked it up,” Janine said.
“All the time, they are trying to shift the blame rather than take responsibility for what they have and haven’t done.”
In February, Aged Care Services Minister Richard Colbeck and Health and Aged Care Minister Greg Hunt jointly announced that the aged care vaccination rollout would take six weeks.
“Vaccination for residents and staff will be made available through residential aged care facilities where they live or work, and it will be administered through an in-reach workforce provider,” Minister Hunt said in a media release on 16 February.
Two thirds of AGED CARE staff unvaccinated
Federal Department of Health data showed that as of 25 June, two thirds of aged care staff nationally had not received a single dose of vaccine.
“The government is putting the onus on individual workers to get vaccinated rather than supplying vaccines at the workplace as promised,” Janine said.
“It (COVID vaccination) is a big issue that aged care staff talk about all the time.
“We get our annual flu shots at work, usually just before starting a shift. The company arranges it and it’s convenient.
“Why couldn’t the government do the same with the COVID vaccine? Some staff at my facility got residents’ leftovers but otherwise we have to make our own arrangements.”
She said nursing home staff are “badly understaffed, burnt out and exhausted.”
“The last thing we want is to have to fight to get an appointment at a doctor or clinic when vaccines – especially Pfizer – are still in short supply.
“One of our members had to drive for an hour to get his first shot,” Janine said. The only day available for his second appointment was a day he worked so he had to take annual leave, which he’s not happy about.
“Members are asking whether they will get paid time off if the COVID vaccine makes them sick. A lot of people got sick from this year’s flu shot and some of them have used up all their sick leave.”
A sense of abandonment
With the NSW/Victoria border again closed, Albury workers like Janine who live in Victoria also have to cope with long traffic queues, which makes it even harder to arrange medical appointments.
She said members were asking why the government made COVID vaccination mandatory for nursing home staff but not visitors, including contractors.
“In aged care across the board, you cannot come into a facility if you haven’t had your flu shot. The flu shot treats everyone equally – why not the COVID vaccination?”
Janine said the public focus on unvaccinated aged care staff would likely make it even harder to attract workers to the sector.
“It’s always been hard to get enough staff and, now that we are more in the public eye following the royal commission, even less people want to work in aged care.
“We have had a lot of people leave the industry recently and management is finding it hard to replace them, which means we will have to work short.
“There’s a sense of abandonment: staff feel that the government is letting them down again and again on so many levels, including lack of staffing ratios and low pay.
“Aged care workers can walk into disability care and get paid $10 an hour more.”
Janine says that despite negative publicity there is strong community support for aged care workers in the Albury district.
“We’ve had a good response to our campaign to win mandatory ratios for nurses in aged care – recently we collected over 200 signatures on a petition in one day.”