Sector stress to the fore again

According to the United Workers Union survey of more than 900 aged care workers, almost 80 per cent reported they felt “stressed” by the ever-changing demands of Omicron.

In response to a survey reporting the impact of Omicron on the aged care workforce, the National Ageing Research Institute is advising workers on how to protect their mental health.

A just released United Workers Union survey — detailing how Omicron has piled pressure on an already “exhausted” and “demoralised” aged care workforce — has prompted the National Ageing Research Institute to promote a series of tip sheets developed to protect workers’ mental health.

The resources were originally released in response to the first big COVID wave that hit Victoria’s aged care sector in March 2020. Speaking to Australian Ageing Agenda, NARI director Professor Briony Dow said that, at the time “nobody seemed to be thinking about how aged care workers should be dealing with all the additional pressures on them”.

While Aussies clapped for healthcare workers and hospital staff were showered with gifts, aged care workers were, at best, ignored and, at worst, abused, she said. “There were stories of people being afraid to go out to do their weekly shop in their uniforms,” said Professor Dow. “This was impacting on their mental health.”

Professor Briony Dow

As were the extended hours, staff shortages, and an absence of PPE. “There was a lot of focus on physical health — keeping safe from the virus and so on,” said Professor Dow, “but very little on the mental health of the aged care workforce.”

This is how the mental health tip sheets — co-designed with members of the sector — came to be developed. She said the need for the resources — for workers and managers — “has come to the fore again”.

According to the United Workers Union survey of more than 900 aged care workers, almost 80 per cent reported they felt “stressed” by the ever-changing demands of Omicron.

Professor Dow said the stress can leak into workers’ private lives. “They could be taking those issues home and causing conflict in their own families.” Professor Dow added: “Their mental health is not only crucially important for themselves, but also for the people that they’re caring for.”

The rapid increase in stress due to the Omicron outbreak has resulted in aged care workers, not only taking leave, but leaving the sector altogether. “Not only in those frontline roles, but in management roles as well,” said Professor Dow. “Just because it’s simply too hard.”

Access Protecting Mental Health: Tips for Aged Care Workers and Tips for Aged Care Managers

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Tags: aged care, briony dow, featured, nari, omicron, stress, workforce,

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