From non-essential to heroes
When Jocelyn Hofman hears politicians describe nurses as “frontline heroes” in the fight against the COVID-19 virus she thinks back to the eve of International Nurses’ Day three years ago.
In 2014, the NSW Liberal–National Coalition government threatened to drop a long-standing requirement to employ registered nurses in aged care facilities 24/7.
A community campaign led by the NSWNMA resulted in a bill to reverse that decision passing the upper house of the NSW parliament.
On Thursday 11 May 2017 – the eve of International Nurses Day – Coalition MPs voted to defeat the bill that would have required all nursing homes to have RNs on duty around-the-clock.
Jocelyn Hofman, who is an RN at a Blue Mountains aged care facility, says it should not have taken a pandemic to show politicians the importance of qualified staffing of nursing homes.
“In 2017, this government deemed registered nurses non-essential by voting down that bill,” she said.
“Now, with COVID-19, nurses are regarded as essential in the aged care sector. We are now hailed as ‘heroes in the frontline’.
“Why weren’t we regarded as essential back in 2017? We are doing the same job as before – looking after our residents and trying to keep them safe.
“We don’t need platitudes about being heroes when it suits the government’s narrative. We need legislative action to ensure that there are ratios for registered nurses and assistants in nursing or personal care workers in all aged care facilities.”
Jocelyn said nurses are essential in aged care for infection control, to properly assess the health of residents and to mentor the healthcare team.
“Nurses are needed to assess anyone with respiratory symptoms and initiate barrier nursing to make sure highly contagious diseases do not spread.”
By mid-May, the federal government had given aged care providers an additional $850 million to deal with COVID-19.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the funds are aimed at ensuring providers “can offer reinforced levels of safety and care for those who need it most”.
Morrison said providers would get about $900 per resident in major metropolitan areas and $1350 per resident in all other areas.
Jocelyn is concerned that the money is being handed over without requiring facilities to commit to adequate staffing or to properly train staff.
“Pandemic-related training is mandatory, but nurses are often expected to do it in their own time, without getting paid for it,” she said.
A nationwide survey of nurses revealed that up to 80 per cent of aged care facilities had no increase in care staff to prepare for a COVID-19 outbreak.