‘Verbally abused’ older workers call for mental health helpline ahead of federal election

For some Australians, life seems to be returning to normal after the COVID-19[feminine] pandemic but for elderly care customers and employees, the virus risk continues to weigh on the sector.

The elderly care industry, whether residential or home care providers, is strained due to understaffing, poor pay conditions and heavy workloads.

Megan Mainwaring, a case manager at myHomecare and has worked in aged care for eight years, but said the mental toll was becoming “unbearable” for herself and her workers.

“It’s not getting better even though the pandemic subsides, home care seems more stressful,” Mainwaring said.

Megan Mainwaring is a case manager at myHomeCare in Sydney. (Provided)

Staffing shortages have impacted home care providers as COVID-19 causes extended furloughs.

But understaffing means elderly clients experience delays in their daily care and frustrations are vented on staff.

“You have to deal with customers yelling at you because you were supposed to be there two hours ago, but you can’t be there in time because you have so many customers and not enough staff to cover it” , Mainwaring said.

“Clients get frustrated because they can’t go out and their families don’t come, they can get quite verbally aggressive.”

Mainwaring said she had seen an increase in the number of people taking home care packages after COVID-19 closures at nursing homes pushed people into home care, but the number of staff to help these diminishing customers.

“We just don’t have enough staff for all the home care packages.”

“I think the reason for that is that the work is difficult and stressful, mentally, when you’re dealing with elderly, suffering, neglected people,” Mainwaring said.

Stuart Miller, CEO of My Home Care Group
My Homecare CEO Stuart Miller said COVID-19 continues to cause staffing shortages. (Provided)

Company CEO Stuart Miller spoke to 9News after leaving a meeting with a client’s son who complained about delays by staff providing care to his father.

“He was very calm and rational about it, but basically he said it wasn’t 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 add to staffing pressures that impact client prioritization.

“The staff turnover situation with the COVID-19 isolation means we have to sort out who gets the services,” Miller said.

“We are very conservative and we have to protect these people, we can’t afford to send a member of staff there with a sniffle.”

Calling a Mental Health Elder Care Helpline

Added stress from staff shortages, frustrated customers and ongoing safety concerns from COVID-19 has prompted calls for the federal government to introduce mental health support for workers as well as incentives to increase labor -work.

Miller is campaigning ahead of the federal election for psychological support services such as a hotline to be set up for home care workers amid the mental toll of the workload.

“We would like to see education and support mechanisms around mental health, and by that I mean psychological counseling,” he said.

“A hotline, which specifically understands the difficulties of home care because we have specific requirements, is not necessarily a monstrous service.

“He just needs to understand the difficulties our staff are going through.”

The elderly care sector has been particularly strained during the pandemic.
Home care provider calls for more mental health education and support as senior care sector grapples with COVID-19. (Virginia Starr)

Miller also called for resilience training to help staff understand how to handle confrontation and verbal abuse.

“When Megan has spoken out about abuse, it happens every day, and it’s hard to be abused and want to come back the next day,” he said.

“So the government needs to reach out to the providers and say we will offer these free services to incorporate into your team meetings, care manager meetings, field meetings, so that we can give you some of the advice and tools enabling your staff to get through these issues,” he said.

Pressure to raise wages for older workers

Miller added that staff turnover was 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 paid 15% more, so it’s no surprise that people are becoming disabled,” he said.

Miller said that with the cost of living and gas prices rising, better pay for homeworkers is essential as they travel to customers’ homes – something his organization has tried to address by providing fuel cars.

Mainwaring said low pay “doesn’t make sense when you’re dealing with people’s lives” and called for wage increases to get more people into the industry.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 21: A COVID-19 testing clinic sign at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital on January 21, 2022 in Sydney, Australia.  NSW has recorded 46 deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, marking the state's deadliest day since the pandemic began.  NSW also recorded 25,168 new coronavirus infections in the last 24-hour reporting period.  (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)

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