Aged care: Absolutely a crisis out there

'We need help': aged care chief's plea as industry descends into chaos

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BUCKLING: Aged care is in crisis as Omicron sweeps the sector.

BUCKLING: Aged care is in crisis as Omicron sweeps the sector.

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Industry calls for a fulltime Aged Care Minister.

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As the Omicron wave ravages nursing homes throughout Australia, a peak aged care body has issued an desperate SOS.

"It is absolutely a crisis out there," Aged and Community Services Australia chief executive Paul Sadler told ABC News Breakfast on Thursday.

With more than 1200 aged care facilities across the country experiencing outbreaks and 140,000 shifts a week not being filled, Mr Sadler said the industry was in desperate need of assistance.

"We need help from the Defence Force - we need help from wherever we can get it," he said.

Aged and Community Service Australia chief executive Paul Sadler.

Aged and Community Service Australia chief executive Paul Sadler.

"We're advising them [the government] on a daily basis ... what's happening on the ground," Mr Sadler said.

However, the industry and the government appear to have vastly opposing views of the current situation as the Omicron proves increasingly deadly to the frail in aged care.

We need help from the Defence Force - we need help from wherever we can get it. - Paul Sadler ACSA on ABC News Breakfast

Despite embattled Aged Care Services Minister Richard Colbeck telling an Senate inquiry this week that the aged care sector has performed well during the COVID-19 outbreak, Mr Sadler said aged care providers face "immense challenges in what we can do to help people".

At Wednesday's Senate inquiry Mr Colbeck denied the sector was in "complete crisis" in response to a question from Labor Senator Katy Gallager.

Richard Colbeck

Richard Colbeck

"I know it is certainly working very, very hard to manage the impacts, particularly of the Omicron outbreak," he said. "My view, and the data supports that, is that the sector is performing and has performed exceptionally well in the work that it's doing."

Taking aim at Minister Colbeck, Mr Sadler called for an Aged Care Minister "that is actually a fulltime job".

During the Senate Inquiry a defensive Mr Colbeck fielded questions about his decision to go the Ashes Test instead of fronting a previous inquiry on January 14 (Mr Colbeck is also Sports Minister).

He insisted he "continued to pay attention to aged care" while at the Test Match saying he stands by his decision to attend.

Also released on Thursday was a Situation Report on the aged care sector's fight to keep older Australians safe during the pandemic prepared by the Australian Aged Care Collaboration (AACC) which comprises six leading aged care organisations.

It paints a grim picture of the stresses faced by providers and their staff during the Omicron surge.

In a statement AACC says a lack of key resources, particularly since early December, has placed enormous additional strain on the sector with an average of a quarter of shifts in aged care left unfilled.

In January this year alone, 499 aged care residents died due to COVID-19 (figure from Dept of Health as at January 31, 2022).

Many aged care residents are once again separated from family and friends as facilities lock down.

Many aged care residents are once again separated from family and friends as facilities lock down.

"Aged care providers in residential and home and community care are doing all they can to maintain care and support for their residents and clients while keeping them safe from infection in the face of severe staff shortages and a lack of crucial resources like PPE and RATs," the statement says.

"There is only so much aged care providers can do as they balance daily the need to maintain infection control measures while continuing to provide essential services, and manage the effects that isolation has on the wellbeing of people in care."

The AACC says support from governments, both federal and state, is critical to ensuring aged care providers are able to protect and provide care to vulnerable older people.

It is scathing of the recently announced two $400 retention payments for aged care staff saying "it is extremely disappointing to learn that many staff will be excluded from receiving the payments."

Aged care providers in residential and home and community care are doing all they can to maintain care and support for their residents and clients while keeping them safe from infection in the face of severe staff shortages and a lack of crucial resources like PPE and RATs. - Australian Aged Care Collaboration

"For example, staff working in the Commonwealth Home Support Program will miss out altogether, as will home care and residential aged care workers in maintenance, reception and lifestyle program roles. This makes it all the more difficult because in home care and residential care, some staff will receive the payment while their colleagues will not - despite them all facing similar risks and work challenges.

"It remains to be seen how this measure will address the exodus of staff now being experienced by the sector.

"The bottom line is that people working on the frontline of caring for older Australians need to be properly resourced and enabled to provide the best and safest care."

The report lists some of the key supports the sector urgently needs including:

  • Appropriate payments for aged care workers that reflect their additional effort and risks as they do all they can to keep residents and clients safe from COVID-19
  • Better surge workforce arrangements to ensure quality and services are maintained in the current and future COVID-19 waves
  • Funding to cover the increased costs providers are incurring in implementing measures to protect residents, clients and staff
  • Reliable supplies and more efficient distribution of RATs and PPE
  • Better data on infections and vaccinations so risks can be better managed.
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