A dozen service provider CEOs who have been working in the aged care sector for three decades or more have described the last seven days as the “toughest week” they have experienced in their professional lives.

Staff fatigue and frustration, skyrocketing costs of responding to recurring outbreaks, service providers struggling to find replacement staff to fill shifts, and difficulties in securing urgently needed PPE and RATs are just a few of the challenges being reported on the frontline.

Spokesperson for aged care provider peak body coalition Australian Aged Care Collaboration Sean Rooney said there was a real sense of crisis from management and workers on the ground. This is backed up by anecdotal evidence from 12 aged care CEOs in South Australia.

“They were all saying that last week was the toughest week that they have experienced in their professional lives working in the sector – and that there was no end in sight,” Mr Rooney told Australian Ageing Agenda.

Sean Rooney

While keen to acknowledge “the heroic efforts of aged care workers and services” who are “doing all they can to keep people safe from the Omicron variant,” Mr Rooney said: “With the widespread community transmission of that variant, the impact on aged care residents, clients and staff creates a very, very challenging set of circumstances.”

As of 27 January, there have been 12,315 COVID-19 cases among aged care residents nationally and 1,330 recorded deaths since the pandemic began. Most of these cases are related to the Omicron variant, with the latest data showing 7,861 active cases among residents as of 20 January. There are also 11,198 active cases among staff, with a total of 19,059 active cases across 1,198 aged care facilities.

These numbers are likely to rise. The latest weekly report is due to land tonight.

The AACC and the relevant unions are together petitioning the Federal Government for urgent action. Particularly, “around payments for staff to acknowledge all the additional efforts they’re having to go through and the additional risks they’re taking in trying to keep people safe,” Mr Rooney said. 

And the Federal Government has also been alerted to the growing shortage of staff. “We still find ourselves in a position where shifts are likely going unfilled because surge workforces aren’t available in some locations,” said Mr Rooney, CEO of provider peak Leading Age Services Australia.

For many providers who were already facing staffing pressures, the situation has worsened dramatically over recent weeks. Speaking to AAA, chief executive of Council on the Ageing Australia Ian Yates, called the staffing shortage “unprecedented”.

“There’s not a place to turn to,” he said. “Everybody’s swimming in the same pool. Health sectors are also experiencing [staff] challenges and actively trying to recruit nurses out of the aged care system at the same time as the aged care system is trying to find additional staff.”

Ian Yates

The solution

Mr Yates called for a collaborative approach. “We need Government and the industry to work together on a workforce strategy that gets more workers into the industry as soon as possible, which has to include targeted immigration and encouraging people to come back from retirement,” he said.

“This is the single biggest challenge that the sector – particularly the residential sector – has faced for many years,” said Mr Yates. “Getting through it won’t be easy.”

The office of Minister for Aged Care Services Richard Colbeck was approached for comment, but no reply was received ahead of publication.   

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  1. Our staff are under enormous pressure and the response from the government is to impose sanctions and cut funding!! We are a community non-profit organization. Hospitals have the ability to stop elective surgery to help with staff shortages but not the Aged Care Sector; where do we get extra staff?

  2. A very accurate picture of the current situation. Two years of this, working in residential aged care has blurred the time, we have all lost this time. Isolation from family and friends, an exceptionally stressful work environment, now daily RAT testing, staff resignations and shortages, extra shifts, and no end in sight.
    A huge insult was not receiving the staff retention bonuses for ALL staff working directly in this sector. Lifestyle staff, admin, cleaners, laundry, kitchen etc not included.
    We MUST be included if there are further payments made. I feel the Government may have been poorly advised over this issue, as we all have been hugely impacted and deal directly with residents on a daily basis. We have been integral in maintaining as best and safe environment as possible under difficult conditions. Looking after the families has been equally important , offering reassurance and helping to coordinate contact with their loved ones, via zoom, email, cards and window visits where possible. Wearing full PPE all day for all of us has been very very difficult.
    Please do not ignore us, platitudes of gratitude, will not suffice.

  3. Oh Vicki, so eloquently stated!! Hear Hear – when other staff are not deemed as Essential Staff, it really is a slap in the face, alot of respect for our Nurses & Care Staff but what about others, we are in this together. We are all working 12 hour shifts to fill the gaps where we can at the moment and at times more hours, where I am our Management team including those on Board have rolled up their sleeves and have been hands on working alongside us which is fabulous but it is so exhausting for all of us. With no end in sight, there is a lot who are walking out of the aged care sector itself, giving their all without able to give any more, as Vicki stated not only for our residents but families as well – a lot of emotional and spiritual support, with some residents who are living with dementia probably will not recover from feeling isolated from families. There is a lot of talk regarding the hospital sector, and I do respect what they are going through too, however the aged care sector always seem to be the bridesmaids never the bride. Rhetoric investigations into the sector, without actually something being done other than more reporting mechanisms in place (to take us even more away from providing hands-on care) is also taking a toll. I also agree with Vicki, I am sick and tired of the platitudes, great but we are after action. This sector is still being ignored.

  4. I wish to congratulate Charles Moore, Baptistcare CEO on his open letter to Mr Scott Morrison.

    “Pushing through” just doesn’t cut it anymore prime minister.

    This is a debate that needs to happen. The vulnerable members of our community and the dedicated workers attempting to replace the absence of loved ones need to be respected.

    The answer is not to keep Aged Care facilities locked down.

    Residents of Aged Care Facilities are in the final phase of their life journey. They need to be given the dignity of risk to “live”.

    It is not enough to “maintain” life. Holistic wellbeing is about enriching the mind and soul not just protecting the body.

    I appeal for the Industry to get behind Charles Moore and continue the conversation.

  5. Many thanks for the comment, Jennifer. AAA subscribers who haven’t seen Charles Moore’s open letter to the PM can read it here.

  6. In Rural areas right across Australia there are Multi Purpose Facilities where Aged Care has to compete with Acute Care and Urgent Care for staff attention.
    This makes the care our residents deserve impossible when the public use Urgent Care for non urgent problems that could wait for a Dr visit next day.
    The only way to fix this would be fixed Care staff ratios just for the Aged Care Residents

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