Providers blasted over treatment of elderly.
Margaret Zanghi visited her husband Ramiro in a nursing home every day for more than three years, until he died.
Ramiro entered the home suffering from Lewy Body Dementia with a Parkinson’s element. He lost coordination, was prone to falls and suffered frequent urinary tract infections.
After Ramiro died, Margaret joined the Quality Aged Care Action Group (QACAG). She is now the group’s president and spoke at the aged care rally.
“Like my husband, the majority of residents were in need of high care, with multiple illnesses quite apart from dementia,” Margaret told the rally.
“They were, in fact, in need of hospital-level care, but the care they received was not at the level they required.
“The major issue was that there was simply not enough staff … The nurses were run off their feet.”
She said as a result of understaffing, “observations of residents’ deteriorating health were missed with all the attendant consequences”.
There were frequent falls and residents were “left in situations that were lacking in dignity regarding toileting”.
“And residents were often in danger from other residents who wandered and became aggressive.
“Some of us relatives, innocent as we were at the time, asked, ‘What is the ratio of nurses to residents?’
“Of course, we were told that there were no ratios.”
Margaret said she joined QACAG because she wanted to become active in lobbying for better quality in aged care.
“Nursing home providers are paid quite handsomely to take care of vulnerable residents.
“Doctors and other health professionals make care plans for their patients’ treatment, so there is no mistake about their needs.
“A provider who accepts responsibility for a resident’s care with full knowledge of their needs – and then fails to provide the necessary care – is both fraudulent and abusive.”
Time to care for elderly
“Living in a nursing home should be about more than just having your physical needs met. There’s a mental and spiritual side to life as well,” says Assistant in Nursing Warren Ross.
“Emotional support is just as important to residents as the physical care they need. You can only give them that support if you have the time to get to know them.”
Warren works at a Blue Mountains nursing home where, he says, staffing levels are better than many other facilities.
“However, we are often working short because aged care nursing is demanding physical work that results in a high rate of sick leave.
“Usually, there is not enough time to socialise with, and get to know, the people we are looking after.
“It’s all very well to care for people’s physical needs but it is equally important to make a connection on a one-to-one level.
“For example, by talking to a resident in my own time, I found out she grew up in the same suburb as me. That wasn’t in the paperwork but suddenly we had a connection. She started to relax and I was able to relate to her more easily.
“I learned from another fellow, who was inclined to be aggressive, that he was a Manly Sea Eagles supporter. I happened to remember the old Manly football song and when I sung it with him he would calm down.”
Warren says the only way staff will be able to spend more time with residents is to increase staff numbers, “and for that we need mandatory staffing ratios”.
“With current staffing levels, you always feel pressured and feel you have to rush. Residents can sense when you are not able to give them your full attention.
“If you have to rush to get onto the next task it doesn’t allow you to provide the level of care that residents need and that I would like to give.”
He says it makes no sense that society mandates staffing ratios for child care but not for aged care.
“The early and final stages of life are when you are most in need of care. People who have given their whole lives to society deserve as much care as children.”
Warren says the aged care campaign’s TV ads are “very powerful” and should help to create a groundswell of community support for ratios.
“Too many politicians are followers rather than leaders so they will only act with public pressure.”
It’s all about respect
For Assistant in Nursing Nada Milenkovic, satisfactory staffing of nursing homes is all about respect.
“We need adequate nurse-to-resident ratios because residents need protection and respect,” Nada says. “Also, aged care workers’ safety needs to be protected.”
“I’m so disappointed about what’s going on in aged care; we don’t have enough staff to care for residents properly and give them quality care.”
As a Certificate IV AiN, Nada is responsible for giving medication to 21 residents. However, insufficient staffing means she is often pressured to rush even this vital task.
“I hope ratios will become law, but it is not only about staff numbers. It’s also about getting staff with the necessary skills and qualifications who can do the job properly.”
Nada thinks ratios would help to attract more staff who are passionate about helping others.
“I am happy when residents are happy and have a smile on their face.
“People who are going to do this job need to love this job and want to help other people by giving them really good care.”
Ways you can help
Visit the Ratios For Aged Care – Make Them Law Now website for more information and sign up to help our campaign: www.MoreStaffForAgedCare.com.au
The NSWNMA has produced a campaign kit to help you spread the message in your workplace and the community: firstname.lastname@example.org