Bonus payments for registered nurses who stay in the aged care sector are a welcome start, but it is concerning that providers apply for the bonus on behalf of nurses, an aged care researcher tells Australian Ageing Agenda.
The Federal Government this week announced the launch of the budget initiative to provide full-time registered nurses who work for the same aged care provider for 12 months with $3,700 each year in 2022 and 2023.
Part-time and casual registered nurses will be eligible to receive payment on a pro-rata basis, averaging $2,700 each year.
Under the Aged Care Registered Nurse Payment initiative, nurses can receive an additional $2,300 if they work in a rural or remote area, hold a post-graduate qualification or take on additional leadership or training responsibilities in their organisation.
Aged care providers are responsible for applying for the payment on behalf of their nursing workforce in a non-competitive grant process.
The eligibility period is 1 November 2021 to 31 October 2022 for the first payment and November 2022 to October 2023 for the second payment.
Charles Sturt University community engagement lead Associate Professor Maree Bernoth said the payment started to show aged care nurses they were valued and recognised the sophisticated role they had in aged care homes.
However, she said the payments should come through the taxation office as a tax rebate rather than from the employer.
“I can see some issues with proprietors wanting to take a percentage of the payment in administration costs. I also can see it being used as a big stick or a disciplinary or a coercive measure by the proprietor,” Associate Professor Bernoth told AAA.
“It can be used to discipline or prevent someone speaking out or prevent someone doing something that is in the interest of the resident but not in the interest of the proprietor,” she said.
Associate Professor Bernoth said the payments “can’t be the end” of measures to attract and retain nurses in aged care, particularly in rural and remote areas.
“The [RNS] who work there now will stay. They’re committed…and this is a recognition for them and their work and what they do. But… I don’t think it’s enough to attract a registered nurse from a metropolitan area to a rural area,” she said.
Accommodation for RNs is one way to attract nurses into rural and remote areas, Associate Professor Bernoth said.
There also needs to be a defined career path as part of the suite of initiatives to value, attract and retain registered nurses in the sector, she said.
“The other thing that will attract and keep registered nurses in aged care is having… the right skill mixes and having the right numbers of staff,” Associate Professor Bernoth said.
Minister for Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt said the $135.6 million initiative recognised the integral role of registered nurses.
“We hope it encourages aged care nurses to continue working with older Australians and incentivises nurses in other sectors to explore a career in aged care,” Mr Hunt said.
Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services Richard Colbeck said the payment acknowledged nurses “who go above and beyond to deliver high quality care to older Australians.”