The aged care industry, both residential and home care providers, are strained due to staff shortages, poor pay conditions and heavy workloads.
Megan Mainwaring, a case manager at myHomecare and has worked in aged care for the past eight years, but said the mental toll is becoming “unbearable” for herself and her workers.
“It’s not getting any better even though the pandemic is calming down, in-home care seems more stressful,” Mainwaring said.
Staff shortages have impacted home care providers as COVID-19 causes extensive furloughing.
But the lack of staff means elderly clients are experiencing delays in their daily care and the frustrations are being taken out on the staff.
“You have to deal with clients yelling at you because you were supposed to be there two hours ago but you can’t be there on time because you have so many clients and not enough staff to cover it,” Mainwaring said.
“The clients are frustrated because they don’t get to go out and their families aren’t coming around, they can get quite verbally aggressive.”
Mainwaring said she has seen an increase in the number of people taking out home care packages after COVID-19 lockdowns in nursing homes have turned people to in-home care, but the number of staff to help these clients is dwindling.
“We just don’t have enough staff for all of the home care packages.”
“I believe the reason behind that is because the job is hard and stressful, mentally, when you’re dealing with people who are aged, in pain, neglected,” Mainwaring said.
The company’s CEO Stuart Miller spoke to 9News after leaving a meeting with a client’s son who was complaining about the delays in staff providing care to his father.
“He was very calm and rational about it but basically saying it’s not good enough,” Miller said.
“I had to be really honest with him and say we don’t have the staff at the moment.”
Miller said ongoing precautions around COVID-19 are adding to staffing pressures which trickle down to prioritising clients.
“The situation with staff turnover with COVID-19 isolation means we have to triage who gets the services,” Miller said.
“We’re very conservative and we have to protect these people, we can’t afford to send a staff member in there with a sniffle.”
Calls for an aged care mental health support helpline
The added stress of staff shortages, frustrated clients and ongoing safety concerns of COVID-19 has sparked calls for the federal government to introduce mental health support for workers as well as incentives to grow the workforce.
Miller is campaigning in the lead up to the federal election for psychological support services such as a helpline to be implemented for home care workers amid the mental toll of the workload.
“We would like to see education and supporting mechanisms around mental health, and by that, I mean psychological counselling,” he said.
“A hotline, which understands specifically home care struggles because we have some specific requirements, it doesn’t have to be a monstrous service.
“It just needs to understand the struggles our staff are going through.”
Miller also called for resilience training to help staff understand how to deal with confrontation and verbal abuse.
“When Megan spoke about being abused, it happens every single day, and it’s hard to get abused and want to come back the next day,” he said.
“So the government needs to reach into providers and say we’ll offer these free services to build into your team meetings, care manager meetings, field meetings, so we can give you some of the tips and tools for your staff to get through these issues,” he said.
Pressure to increase the pay of aged care workers
Miller added staff turnover is being exacerbated by inadequate pay, another issue he is also calling on the government to address.
“People doing very similar work in the disability sector are getting paid 15 per cent more so it’s not surprising when people go to disability,” he said.
Miller said with the rising cost of living and petrol prices, better pay for home care workers is essential as they are travelling to clients’ homes – something his organisation has tried to address by supplying fuel cars.
Mainwaring said the low pay “makes no sense when you’re looking after people’s lives” and called for pay increases to attract more people to the industry.