One of the nation’s largest providers of aged care services in the outback has backed calls for further support for aged care nurses working in remote areas.
The group’s NT Regional Manager, Sharon Davis, said it is difficult to attract staff to many of her facilities because there is an undersupply of appropriate affordable housing.
“At a minimum here in the Northern Territory, our wages are 30 per cent behind those received by nurses in the public hospital system,” she said.
“And then the public hospitals in places like Tennant Creek and Alice Creek have staff housing in place. If you go to places like Mutitjulu, near [Uluru], there is housing for the community nurses but nothing for the aged care staff.”
“When we have to pay for housing and our costs are already over and above the mainstream, it cripples us. Most of our services get a small viability supplement according to where they are located, but it is not enough to fill the gap.”
Ms Davis said she had recently received three resignations from staff at Frontier Services’ Derby facility in Western Australia because rental costs were going up.
“One woman’s housing costs $350 a week at the moment but in two weeks it will go up to $450 a week and then in two months time, it will go up again to $700 a week,” she said.
“That’s because in Derby, they now have a detention centre and they are building a new prison so there is a high demand for housing.”
Ms Davis would like the government to provide allocated housing or capital funding to services operating aged care services in remote areas to enable them to provide accommodation for their staff.
“Doctors, ambulances drivers and nurses in local clinics, as well as teachers, all have their housing provided,” she said.
“I do understand that it is different when you consider that aged care is Commonwealth funded and the other positions are usually using state [or territory] based funding but it is something that needs to be addressed.”
Frontier Services has been outlining its concerns to the Productivity Commission, as it continues to conduct its aged care inquiry.
Ms Davis said the commission understands the issues affecting organisations operating in remote communities but she says there is a need for a new approach to aged care in the outback.
“Somewhere along the line, government…and the Australian community, have to decide whether they are fair dinkum about delivering services in the bush,” she said.