Aged care nurses in moral distress and burning out

Aged care nurses in moral distress and burning out

As the Omicron wave spreads through private aged care facilities aged care nurses across the country are in moral distress and are burning out because of dangerously low staffing levels, a national survey has revealed.

The survey, being conducted by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF), has so far found there was not enough staff to attend to residents’ basic needs, resulting in staff contemplating leaving their jobs.

The national survey, which opened on 19 January and closes on 2 February, asks ANMF members to share their workplace experiences during the pandemic, exploring issues such as current workloads; exposure to COVID; access to vaccinations, testing (RAT and PCR) and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Some preliminary results released by the ANMF today include:

  • Over 58% of participants said their workplace had experienced a COVID-19 outbreak;
  • 20% said they were planning to leave their position within the next 12 months and 38% of participants said they are planning to leave their current position within the next 1-5 years;
  • 40% of staff worked double shifts;
  • 25% of participants said their employer asked them to cancel/delay planned leave or return to work from leave.

Acting ANMF Federal Secretary, Lori-Anne Sharp, said the survey results so far paints a picture of the country’s private aged care system at breaking point.

“Appropriate staffing is at the heart of quality care and there is simply not enough staff to meet residents’ basic care needs.

“Aged care staff are working under extremely difficult circumstances, trying their very best to hold the system together. As the pandemic continues, they’re exhausted, physically and emotionally burnt-out, working longer hours, double shifts and consecutive days without adequate breaks, with no immediate relief in sight.”

Ms Sharp said the feedback from members planning to leave their profession, particularly those working in aged care, was extremely concerning for the ANMF and indeed, the whole community.

Feedback from the survey participants clearly indicated the stress nurses are working under.

One participant said, “I have been working and still currently working throughout a COVID outbreak in a nursing home. We are very short staffed, so hours have been long and days off are rare. We haven’t even been compensated for our time or efforts as of yet and unsure if we will. I am mentally and physically worn out but I keep going simply because I have no choice, the residents need us.”

“I have had to work several night shifts with only two care workers and one RN to over 100 residents. During a recent red zone lockdown I had to care for over 60 residents by myself during two night shifts. I was exhausted and only paid $23:35 per hour. I’m very saddened that night shifts are taking on the heaviest loads having to do laundry and kitchen work and their usual work during a 10pm to 6am shift,” said another.

Ms Sharp said it was about time the Morrison Government recognised their value and contribution and provided a safe working environment and awarded them a COVID allowance payment for their efforts.

“The Government’s current workforce surge plans are inadequate and too slow in their roll-out. It’s why the ANMF, other unions and aged care providers have issued an SOS to the Prime Minister to deploy the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to provide emergency support and assistance at nursing homes across the country. Our call for ADF support has been largely ignored.

“The ANMF is engaging with the Federal Government and our industry stakeholders to address the various issues impacting health and aged care during the pandemic, but from what our members are telling us, it’s crucial that chronic understaffing, particularly in nursing homes, is resolved – before lives are lost unnecessarily.”

To participate in the survey go to:

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