The aged care sector is in desperate need of nurses to fill shifts

The number of short-term staff shifts that aged care facilities report to the government has increased almost tenfold in the past two years. [File photo]

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The number of short-term staff shifts that aged care facilities report to the government has increased almost tenfold in the past two years. [File photo]

Registered nurses in aged care would work up to 16 hours on shifts and managers sleep on site several nights a week to ensure rosters are covered in the event of critical staff shortages.

Aged care facilities issued Section 31 of 2004 notifications – a legally mandated health and safety risk report – by the end of August this year.

That’s a jump from 260 submissions in 2020 and 851 for 2021.

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Providers are legally required to inform the Chief Health Officer of any situation which may put residents at risk under section 31(5) of the Health and Disability Services (Safety) Act 2001 ).

A Department of Health spokesperson attributed the increase to the introduction of a new form under Section 31 specifically for registered nurse shortages in April.

Use of the form has been promoted by the ministry, Te Whatu Ora and the New Zealand Aged Care Association, the spokesperson said.

The idea was to streamline paperwork, so providers could submit one form per week rather than one per shift, while providing the department with data to manage the national shortage of registered nurses, the gatekeeper said. word.

But elder care advocates say submissions are rising because there aren’t enough nurses.

Norah Barlow, host of Aged Care Matters and chief executive of Heritage Lifecare, said the once urgent health and safety risks associated with understaffing had become so common “we only report once a week”.

Norah Barlow, coordinator of Aged Care Matters, says aged care nurses earn between $20,000 and $30,000 a year less than their Health New Zealand counterparts.  Aged Care Matters was set up in May to call on the government to address the sector's critical underfunding. [File photo]

Alden Williams / Stuff

Norah Barlow, coordinator of Aged Care Matters, says aged care nurses earn between $20,000 and $30,000 a year less than their Health New Zealand counterparts. Aged Care Matters was set up in May to call on the government to address the sector’s critical underfunding. [File photo]

Barlow estimated that about half of elder care teams were understaffed in one way or another, but nurses were sleeping on site, managers were working on the floor and staff were working longer hours to get by. ensure that it met staffing needs.

“It means people are tired.”

Closed borders, a lengthy immigration process, more attractive salary offers from abroad and unresolved pay equity issues have exacerbated the nursing shortage that has been evident for some time.

Without aged care facilities – which had to close more than 790 beds this year – elderly Kiwis who needed care would be sent to public hospitals, Barlow said.

“Nobody wants to get old and sick, but if that happens, and if we’re not there, then God save New Zealand because we won’t have electives. [planned surgeries].”

The president and director of the New Zealand Nurses Organization College of Gerontology nursing home, Natalie Seymour, says aged care facilities are not adequately funded to cover the number of staff they need for residents who are admitted with higher needs. [File photo]

JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/Stuff

The president and director of the New Zealand Nurses Organization College of Gerontology nursing home, Natalie Seymour, says aged care facilities are not adequately funded to cover the number of staff they need for residents who are admitted with higher needs. [File photo]

Natalie Seymour, chair of the New Zealand Nurses Organization College of Gerontology, spoke to the Health Select Committee in June, calling for safe staffing levels.

The patients she and her team cared for had higher needs, which meant more staff were needed to care for them.

The growing number of 31 articles was a measure of the shortage of personnel in the sector, she said.

Seymour herself works eight-hour shifts as a clinical nurse on the floor after finishing her day job as a duty manager, working up to 93½ hours in any given week.

Radius Care chief executive Andrew Peskett said Southland and other smaller regional areas were struggling to attract staff.

Aged care facilities in Southland and Otago submitted 174 papers 31 this year – the third highest number in the country behind Waikato District on 349 and Canterbury on 305.

Radius Care chief executive Andrew Peskett said some

Provided

Radius Care chief executive Andrew Peskett said some ‘nursing homes are already on the brink of ruin and an exodus of nurses and carers from New Zealand to Australia could be the final nail in the coffin”.

Peskett called the numbers extraordinary, but also felt there could be under-reporting.

Besides the time it takes to submit forms, Section 31 could potentially lead to closures if facilities were deemed unsafe, which could make staff reluctant to submit them, he said.

What the industry needed was less paperwork, more nurses and a funding overhaul, Peskett said.

Bupa Villages and Aged Care took on the problem by engaging Emergency Consult – an online emergency care clinic.

Chief operating officer Sue McLeod said this meant senior carers could manage night shifts with virtual on-call clinical support from GPs and registered nurses.

“It’s not ideal, but it’s as good as it gets without having a registered nurse on site.”

A spokesperson for Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand said strengthening the health workforce was a key objective for the new health agency.

Initiatives already underway include the Return to Nursing Support Fund, a nurse practitioner training program and a recruitment campaign encouraging people to enter the profession.

About Antoine L. Cassell

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