Unions and aged care providers have joined forces to call on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to deploy the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to provide emergency support and assistance to overwhelmed aged care workers at nursing homes grappling with COVID-19 outbreaks across the country.
The group, including unions such as the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) and United Workers Union (UWU), and aged care peak bodies, is also urging the federal government to fund additional direct payments for staff to maintain the workforce.
In a joint statement, unions and aged care providers said the escalating crisis in aged care had left services around the nation reeling and put care for older Australians at risk, with many missing out on essential care due to chronic staffing shortages. With lockdowns restricting many residents to their rooms as services work to keep them safe amid the surging COVID-19 pandemic, and severe staff shortages emerging across all sectors, services for older Australians must be prioritised, the group stressed.
They argue services that older people depend on are not being delivered simply because there is not enough staff.
The dire situation has led to burnt out aged care staff, with reports of widespread resignations. At breaking point, the sector now requires immediate ADF support where requested, a COVID-19 payment for all staff, and a resolution to ongoing issues regarding access to rapid antigen tests RATs and PPE supplies.
According to the groups, the current crisis unfolding in aged care exposes longstanding systemic funding and workforce issues.
“We acknowledge Minister Greg Hunt’s announcement yesterday that private hospital staff may be able to assist aged care,” the statement said.
“We await more details about how this will operate. Over a thousand aged care services around Australia are already dealing with an Omicron outbreak. We expect many, many more to be affected over the coming days.
“Aged care staff are exhausted and burnt out, with many working for days around the clock. Resignations due to fatigue and feeling undervalued have begun. This is just the beginning. There is no adequate staffing safety net. To deliver quality care, we need urgent action from the federal government and a wage boost to secure the workforce in the form of a COVID-19 wage payment paid directly to workers.”
Unions and aged care providers added that other measures to address the crisis were already well behind schedule, including freely available rapid antigen tests, PPE, consistent isolation rules, and visitation guidelines that balance social needs and infection control measures.
With so many COVID cases in the community, they warn that the situation will continue for some time.
“There is no end in sight yet, and we must plan for things to peak before they get better. Aged care staff are working hard to provide care in very challenging circumstances and with limited resources. They are on the frontline of the fight against COVID-19, protecting the most vulnerable in our society. They must be resourced and enabled to win this fight.”