Nurses and families are demanding better standards in elderly care and wage increases in the sector ahead of the election

Families of senior residents in regional Victorian care homes say the major political parties must make tough promises to raise standards of care for the elderly and increase accountability for those doing the wrong things.

Nurses are also speaking out, saying a minimum staffing level and 24-hour coverage are needed to prevent overworked nurses and personal care assistants from burning out when they don’t have the resources.

Kaye Bearin lives in Eaglehawk, near Bendigo, and says she often does the work of geriatric nurses at her mother’s nursing home because they’re understaffed, overworked, and some aren’t trained to look for physical ability or behavioral changes.

Her 93-year-old mother has lived in a nursing home for the elderly in Bendigo for seven years and Ms Bearlin said the homes needed more enrolled and registered nurses.

“There would be fewer falls, there would be fewer injuries. There would be less bedsores because you have the staff with the skills that know what these things are,” she said.

“You can’t expect personal care assistants to know these things.”

Families looking for details in policies

Ahead of the federal election, Ms Bearlin said she wanted funding to be tied to improved standards, governance and accountability.

That way, she said, the money can’t be used by old-age care providers for profit, expansion, or equity funds to expand and buy out other care homes.

“They have 24-hour nurses where my mum is, which I know is something the Labor Party has supported,” Ms Bearlin said.

If elected, Labor said it would provide 24-hour care, bring more caregivers into the scheme, pay better wages, ensure food standards are met and get providers to report their costs if they do the election wins.

A spokesman for Minister for Older Australians and Aged Care Services Richard Colbeck said the coalition had already committed more than $600 million in wage incentives for aged care workers and invested more than $18.8 billion to support key workforce changes and to finance the management of the company.

He said the new Australian National Aged Care Classification would distribute funding more equitably across the sector and the new independent hospital and aged care pricing authority will assess care standards and costs.

“Too much for one person”

Jamie Lovecraft is a Registered Nurse, one step below a Registered Nurse, and oversees a team of Personal Care Assistants.

He runs medication rounds for residents several times a day, but his job also includes emailing doctors, doing paperwork, and dressing wounds.

Jamie Lovecraft says there needs to be proper patient-staff ratios in nursing homes, more RNs and EENs.(ABC News: Tyrone Dalton)

He’s been in the industry for 18 months and said while he wasn’t concerned about better wages it was important to other people.

Mr Lovecraft said he saw patient-staff ratios as the main thing that needed improvement and wanted to see more registered nurses and registered nurses in care homes.

“I have the skills, but that means my other responsibilities are pushed aside. And I think RNs probably feel the same pressure as we do.

“It’s just too much, frankly, for one person.”

Four principles nurses want to hold onto

Ian Hardie is a recently retired aged care manager and managed care homes in New South Wales and Victoria for 30 years before settling in Bendigo.

A white haired man speaks into a microphone
Ian Hardie managed aged care homes across Victoria and NSW for 30 years.(ABC News: Tyrone Dalton)

He said there are four principles of elder care that need to be mandated across the sector.

“There must be more regular, surprise inspections and audits of care homes, and appropriate sanctions must be imposed with serious consequences – like the provider losing its license.”

Health Services Union national secretary Lloyd Williams said the next government must fix this crisis and he wants both parties to commit to appropriate policies.

a man with gray hair speaks into a microphone
Lloyd Williams says both major parties must face up to demands from unions and workers.(ABC News: Tyrone Dalton)

“Older Australians built this country. We cannot afford to treat people later in life the way we are treating them now. It’s disrespectful. It’s careless. The government needs to review its priorities,” he said.

Madeleine Harradence, deputy secretary of the Australian Nurses and Midwifery Federation, said the nurse-patient ratio is not revolutionary and is already being found in hospitals and maternity wards.

a lady in a red t-shirt speaks into a microphone
Madeleine Harradence says legislation needs to be introduced that defines the nurse-patient ratio.(ABC News: Tyrone Dalton)

She agrees that a registered nurse should be on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“There is currently no law requiring this. People don’t understand that people keep saying that there are no nurses in nursing homes. Well, you need a framework to ensure that this has to happen,” she said.

“They need a registered nurse to help them evaluate patients who are not well, palliative care patients who administer analgesics when they are not on site.

Mr Lovecraft said the government needed to recognize that a better workforce would mean a better functioning aged care sector.

“You look at numbers, big numbers, like the $2.5 billion that the royal commission recommended. It sounds big, it sounds scary.

“This is going to get a bit controversy, but the Liberal government spent $5 billion on some subs that we didn’t even get.

“So a $5 billion mistake for the military is worth more to them than the people who raised them, than the people who fed them, cared for them and put them in the positions they are now.” .

“And I can’t imagine not being that empathetic.”

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