The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) has called for an urgent increase in the number registered nurses working in nursing homes to ensure the chronically understaffed aged care sector is fully equipped to protect vulnerable elderly residents in the event of a coronavirus outbreak.
The waning that Australia’s nursing homes do not have sufficient qualified nurses to deal with a potential outbreak follows the death of a 95-year-old aged care resident in Sydney, the second person to die from coronavirus in the country, after she became infected by a staff member.
Speaking on Channel 7’s Sunrise program yesterday, ANMF Assistant Federal Secretary Lori-Anne Sharp called on the federal government and aged care providers to work with the union to develop coordinated contingency plans to prevent the transmission of coronavirus and protect the aged care workforce and staff.
“We currently know that there is not enough registered nurses working in nursing homes,” Ms Sharp said.
“In fact, some nursing homes don’t have a registered nurse working around the clock. So we’re calling on the government and providers to provide a registered nurse in the first instance working around the clock in aged care facilities.”
Ms Sharp told Sunrise that there had been a 13% reduction in registered nurses working across aged care over the past decade.
“If we don’t have qualified staff in nursing homes to address what could be a pandemic then we don’t have qualified staff to assess patients of their clinical needs,” she said.
“We need a willingness of providers to employ registered nurses and make sure that there is a skill mic and a qualified contingent of staff.
“We’ve seen chronic understaffing for over a decade now. If facilities are understaffed already to meet the basic needs of residents, they won’t be well-equipped to deal with what could be a pandemic of the coronavirus in nursing homes.”
As the coronavirus outbreak worsens, the ANMF is also supporting calls by the ACTU for the federal government to provide financial support to aged care workers potentially impacted by nursing home lockdowns, given that over 10% of workers are casual employees and do not have access to paid personal leave.
“The aged care sector is already dangerously understaffed. A potential outbreak and consequent lockdowns in nursing homes could inevitably result in a depleted workforce with reduced numbers of qualified staff on the ground for elderly residents,” Ms Sharp said.
“Contingency plans must ensure that aged care providers have enough supplies and equipment in the event of an outbreak in the aged care system, particularly Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and that there is sufficient and properly trained staff to implement effective infection control measures.
“Our elderly are more vulnerable than others in the community, many of them with co-morbidities – they are most at risk and need protection.”