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Why We’re Fighting for Aged Care Staffing Ratios

In this moving short film, Honorine and Kim share why they're backing the ANMF petition to mandate staff ratio laws.

Proud union members and best friends Honorine Dowie and Kim Barwise have been working in aged care for more than 20 years. They’ve both experienced first-hand the difference between private facilities with poor, unregulated staff ratios, and public facilities with excellent, mandated ones.   

“It shocked me!” recalled Kim. “I went from working with a staff ratio of 1:5 where it was a really fun, happy, family environment, to private aged care where I had 16 people to look after by myself.”

Honorine remembers that workplace vividly. “That 1:16 ratio…” She trails off, shaking her head.

“We had a mixture of dementia, palliative and high-care residents who needed lifting machines. You’d have to get breakfasts out, there’d be people with dementia wandering around. Down the hall someone would’ve had a fall. There’d be a lady who needed help toileting and you’re trying not to rush her, meanwhile you’ve got all these other breakfasts getting cold.”

Seeing how busy the staff were, residents would often avoid asking for help, not wanting to be a bother. “They’d see we were under the pump and they’d feel bad about putting us behind schedule. There was just no dignity for them.”

Injuries, depression, social isolation

The fall-out of this scenario is complex, serious, heartbreaking – and with proper staffing, utterly preventable. There are the physical risks to people who, unable to access assistance, would attempt to move independently, and often injure themselves. Honorine was once reprimanded on a breakfast shift for refusing to leave the side of a woman who had fallen and broken her hip. She cites falls, urinary tract infections, premature deaths; not to mention the toll on people’s mental health.  

“It’s gut-wrenching when you can’t get to everyone,” adds Kim, tears in her eyes. “You’ve got the residents who are sitting there quietly and then they miss out on going out, or attending bingo, because you just can’t shower them or dress them in time.”

Honorine remembers a resident who had become increasingly withdrawn. It turned out it was because her hearing aids had stopped working and nobody had had time to check them.

“People like that can end up severely depressed to the point that they do contemplate suicide.”

Honorine has seen people’s mental health plummet. “They’re that low that they don’t feel worthwhile, especially when they have staff assisting them and it’s always - quick, hurry up, do this, no time to talk. That’s not nice for them. They need the interaction, they need the social part.”

 And of course, inadequate staffing can traumatise nurses and support workers themselves.

 “You go home crying,” says Kim. “You can’t make a difference to people’s lives when it’s just a production line.”

Proper staffing improves everyone’s lives

Honorine found that being the sole voice questioning the status quo was lonely and depressing.

“I struggled to get up and go to work each day. A lot of people would say – why don’t you just up and leave? But I just couldn’t let those residents down.”

The turning point came when Kim joined the team, and she started to back Honorine up when it came to advocating for residents’ care. That was 20 years ago – and they’re still campaigning hard for mandated ratios in private aged care.

“These people should be given the respect, the holistic care, the socialising, all of that – and it can be done,” says Honorine. “Where I work now, we have mandated ratios and it is done. The residents smile, they socialise, they love it. They are happy.

“It’s not like an aged care facility to them, it’s home.

And that’s the difference.”

 

Support the campaign to ask the Morrison Government to mandate staff ratio laws for aged care. It’s not too much to ask. www.itsnotoomuch.com

Proud union members and best friends Honorine Dowie and Kim Barwise have been working in aged care for more than 20 years. They’ve both experienced first-hand the difference between private facilities with poor, unregulated staff ratios, and public facilities with excellent, mandated ones.   

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