Winning hearts and minds for aged care
Nursing home staff in northern NSW use shopping centres, community halls and the media to urge the public to support staff ratios in aged care.
NSWNMA members in the Northern Rivers region are working to get the public onside in the federal electorate of Richmond, which stretches from Tweed Heads on the Queensland border south to Ballina.
They are part of a national campaign to put an end to chronic understaffing of aged care facilities.
Their aim is to get community and political support for a law setting out staff-to-resident ratios. They say it is needed to protect the frail elderly and the overworked nurses and other workers who care for them.
Four NSWNMA members got a warm response when they set up an information table at the busy Sunnyside shopping centre in Murwillumbah.
“Hundreds of people came up to speak to us and most of them wanted to know how they could help,” said Jan Hadfield, an assistant in nursing.
“We didn’t get one negative comment and some people even wanted to give us a donation, which we couldn’t accept, of course.
“People who aren’t connected with aged care don’t realise we need ratios. But people with relatives or friends in care do understand it.
“A lot of them had stories about their own relatives in care. They blamed the companies that own the facilities for delivering substandard care. No one blamed the nurses.”
Jan and her colleagues wore red campaign t-shirts stamped “Ratios for aged care. Make them law now”, handed out leaflets and asked people to go online to sign up as campaign supporters.
“The local newspaper covered the shopping centre event and is keen to follow up the story.”
More activities planned
The members hope to organise another event in the town of Pottsville and take part in the Tweed Valley Banana Festival and parade later this month.
They will also seek meetings with local politicians. Page’s Labor candidate Patrick Deegan has already signed the pledge. Richmond’s Labor MP Justine Elliot has indicated support for the campaign, Jan says.
Jan has worked in aged care for 40 years including the last 15 years in the Tweed district.
“There is no doubt that we do not have enough staff to give residents the care they deserve,” she says.
“You can’t rush elderly people. Some of them just want to talk to you and it’s awful when you don’t have the time to do that little bit extra for them, such as combing their hair a bit longer or moisturising their face or putting lipstick on.
“Nursing home owners claim you should be able to toilet and shower a frail, elderly resident in six to 12 minutes but some residents need two staff members and a mechanical lifter to shower them and put them on the toilet.”
Almost 100 people gathered in a Tweed Heads park for the launch of the aged care campaign in northern NSW.
They included Tweed Shire mayor Katie Milne and Byron Shire councillor Michael Lyon – both members of the NSW Greens – and Craig Elliot, Labor candidate for the seat of Tweed at the 2019 state elections.
Speakers included assistant in nursing Suzanne Wilson who spoke of the struggle to provide quality care in understaffed facilities.
“I work in dementia and I find it really upsetting that the staff levels are no higher in dementia than other areas of aged care,” Suzanne said.
“We need more staff in general and especially for dementia patients, so we have time to support them and stop falls, fighting and other dangerous situations arising unnecessarily.
“Owners of facilities must be made to recognise that it takes a lot longer to do things with dementia patients. You have to give them time to understand what is happening and what you would like them to do.
“They get upset and resist you when you try to rush them, which is understandable.”
Plenty of support for campaign
Suzanne said some people at the meeting were surprised by what they heard and keen to help the campaign.
“I went around with the aged care petition getting people to sign up on the spot.
“We are in the run-up to federal and state elections and that is when politicians are more likely to agree to step up and help people.”
Federal secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, Annie Butler, delivered a message to management representatives attending a national aged care workforce forum recently.
“Safe staffing has become the most critical issue for our members across the board,” Annie said.
“It’s more important than pay right now. While of course that’s also important, our members consistently report workload issues to us as the issue that matters most to them.”
She said aged care was an undervalued and underpaid occupation that was not adequately resourced or recognised.
“Our members are increasingly frustrated and distressed by what they regard as a lack of respect for the elderly by employers who in their view could and should be doing a better job.”
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