One of Australia’s leading nursing federations has urged aged care providers to create better work environments to meet a new nationwide 24/7 nursing requirement by July.
Last week, Sydney-based aged care home Wesley Mission said it would close its remaining three residential facilities after facing severe financial and staffing pressures.
Brightwater Care Group, which delivers care services in Perth, also announced it will shut three of its 12 residential homes by 2024.
By July 2023, all aged care homes must have a registered nurse present at all times.
Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation (ANMF) federal secretary Annie Butler said aged care providers were not acknowledging the needs and concerns of nurses.
“Rather than recognising what matters to nurses, aged care employers are trying to hide their failure to create work environments where nurses want to work,” Mrs Butler said.
“Any organisation failing to recognise the real causes of staff shortages in aged care is also failing to recognise the urgent and critical need to improve care for older Australians.”
Mrs Butler said nurses would return to the sector if it established policies and specific care minute requirements for nurse care, along with a wage raise.
The aged care sector’s reforms are projected to lead to a shortfall of 11,800 registered nurses by the upcoming financial year.
Together with the implementation of the new care minute standard of 215 by October 2024, the workforce will also require close to 10,000 personal care workers.
Despite the government’s initiative to raise the minimum pay standard by 15 per cent from July to attract more staff, the sector still needs thousands of workers.
The salary increase of 15 per cent for workers in the aged care sector is expected to cost nearly $8bn across four years.
But Mrs Butler said the federation continued to hear that many employers would only pass on the money to its workers if they’re ‘legally required.’
“There is no way this can be considered a successful recruitment strategy,” Mrs Butler said.
Australia’s major nursing union is currently in the midst of a court case against the NSW government after allegations of widespread understaffing and mistreatment in public hospitals.
The court case’s first listing in the Supreme Court is anticipated on the 8th of May.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the government’s ‘ambitious’ staffing requirements were necessary to improve aged care following the Royal Commission’s recommendations.
Mrs Albanese said he stood firm on his approach to aged care reforms despite Perth-based provider Brightwater announcing the closure of three of its 12 residential homes by 2024.
Brightwater said it faced severe financial and staffing pressures ahead of the new national standards around 24/7 onsite nurses.
“The fact that 90 per cent have met the (staffing) requirements already shows that we make no apologies for being ambitious in this area,” Mr Albanese said.
“But we’re also being very practical about the way that these issues are dealt with.”
Federal data estimated that 80 per cent of facilities already met the 24/7 nursing requirements, and ‘nine per cent were very close.’
Yet, increasingly more providers are announcing home closures as staffing pressures rise ahead of the July deadline.
Brightwater told Nursing Review it would close three of its smallest and older residential aged care facilities over the coming 12 months.
Brightwater chief, Catherine Stoddart, said the age and size of the facilities and the increasing care needs of its residents played a significant role in the decision.
“Modelling of our rosters to meet the new minimum staffing requirements showed that our smallest facilities would not be best placed to deliver the quality of care in a financially sustainable way,” Mrs Stoddart said.
“On behalf of all families and residents who call Brightwater home, we have a responsibility to ensure the long-term delivery of high-quality care and ensure the sustainability of our business.”
Roughly 75 residents living across the three facilities in Joondalup, Huntingdale and South Lake will need to relocate.
Over 160 staff will also be offered new positions in Brightwater’s other aged care facilities.
Earlier this year, Brightwater opened a new 128-bed facility at Inglewood, where some of the staff and residents are expected to relocate to.
“We’re committed to ensuring the safety and care of our residents and to the long-term sustainability of our aged care facilities,” Mrs Stoddart said.
“Decisions like this are not easy; however, it is critical for the ongoing delivery of our business.”
The government reiterated that providers failing to meet the new mandates by July would not need to close their doors and that it ‘would work closely with them to get the support they need.’
Earlier this year, Victoria-based aged care provider VincentCare withdrew from Home Care Packages, citing difficulties meeting new government requirements.
Sydney-based aged care provider Wesley Mission announced last week it would close its remaining three residential homes due to staffing challenges.
The move is expected to impact 200 residents and 2,000 staff.
Aged care minister Anika Wells took to social media to defend the government’s decision to mandate staffing levels.
“I will not apologise for being ambitious to improve the quality of aged care,” Wells wrote on Twitter.
“Providers making genuine efforts to follow the rules and keep their residents safe should not be concerned.”
The Albanese government conceded in March the nursing deadline would be unachievable given widespread staffing shortages.
It said that facilities unable to meet the 2/47 nursing requirements, such as those in regional areas with less than 30 beds, would be exempt from the mandate.
Shadow aged care minister Anne Ruston said the government was ‘blatantly ignoring’ workforce shortages.
“Labor has broken its headline election promise to older Australians, and aged care homes are now closing under his watch,” Mrs Ruston said.
The Aged Care Workforce Industry Council (ACWIC) Deputy chair, Graeme Prior, said despite the real workforce challenges, there was a clear need to have an RN on staff 24/7.
“Aged care providers need to have the right people with the right mix of skills available to provide care,” Mr Prior said.
“Getting this transition right is essential to manage risk and maintain good clinical care.
“Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet to the current workforce crisis.”
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