More defence personnel to plug holes in aged care

aged care worker walking out of building

The emergency deployment of Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel in aged care facilities is set to continue for at least another two months – and is being boosted to cover critical staffing shortages.

Defence minister Richard Marles describes the situation as “extreme” as a new wave of COVID infections takes hold across the country.

“It’s not just extending the military support to aged care, it’s actually increasing it up to 250 personnel through until the end of September,” Mr Marles said.

“It’s obviously important to note that this is not a long-term solution.”

The emergency deployment was due to end in two weeks. Commercial ‘surge workers’, employed by the federal government, are contracted until the end of the year.

Read: Health and aged care job vacancies at critical levels: report

Currently, more than 1000 aged care facilities are dealing with COVID outbreaks, with more than 6000 residents infected and more than 3000 staff.

The vast majority of Australia’s COVID restrictions are a thing of the past,.

Paul Sadler, interim CEO of the Aged and Community Care Providers Association (ACCPA), told YourLifeChoices he was worried about what the next two months would mean for aged care staff.

“One of the great concerns about this latest COVID wave is the major impact on the availability of aged care staff, with thousands already infected,” he said.

“ACCPA is concerned that anywhere up to two-thirds of aged care homes could be affected by active outbreaks over coming weeks.

“The increased availability in surge workforce has been welcome, but there is still a shortfall. The reality is we can’t leave older people without adequate levels of care.”

Read: How to fix our ‘broken’ aged care funding system

COVID is exacerbating problems that have existed in the aged care system for years – namely underfunding, understaffing, high turnover and unsustainable workloads.

Back in 2018, before anyone had even heard of COVID, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety painted a bleak picture of a sector in crisis.

A key recommendation was that aged care facilities adhere to new minimum staffing standards from 2023.

The new standards require that each resident receive at least 200 minutes of total care each day, with at least 40 minutes of that care to be provided by a registered nurse. Currently, most aged care workers in Australia are unlicensed personal care workers.

Read: How to complain about aged care and get the result you want

The new requirements also stipulate that at least one registered nurse be on site for the morning and afternoon shifts. Currently, fewer than four per cent of aged care homes in Australia would meet this new standard.

Mr Sadler said a lot had been achieved in aged care but there was still a long way to go.

“The federal government’s recent winter plan was a good start, but we will need more,” he said.

“We need a plan to make up the workforce shortfall more permanently, build resilience in the system for future outbreaks and support care reforms recommended by the royal commission.”

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