Residents, families and workers in aged care face ongoing psychological trauma, Royal Commission told

Aged care staff on the frontline of the COVID-19 crisis, residents, and their families are facing a massive emotional toll in the face of insufficient numbers of qualified nurses and carers, staff cuts and lack of personal protective equipment supplies, the Royal Commission heard this week.

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) Federal Secretary Annie Butler gave insight into issues aged care staff were dealing with during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was taking an emotional toll.

Ms Butler said the unspeakable grief that many people were going to have to deal with including residents themselves, their families and the workers, needed to be addressed.

“That grief extends beyond the loss and the immediate loss,” she said. “It extends to what I would call trauma.”

Ms Butler said ANMF members working in aged care were going to have to deal with the emotional difficulties, including the guilt for some time.

Other tolls on some workers included being infected with the virus without proper processes in place, the conditions around the way aged care staff were having to work, the insecure nature of their work, their low incomes, and the pressure on them to work, Ms Butler said.

“They’re going to have to deal with that.”

Ms Butler said nurses from the acute care sector working in aged care to meet the shortfall also had to deal with the situation the sector was in.

“Nurses who come from a well-prepared sector, and are being asked to do their best in an aged sector that is now in crisis, are having to work without preparation, support and then having to deal with some of the horrific circumstances.”

Also appearing at the Royal Commission was Victorian Branch Secretary Diana Asmar of the Health Services Union who confirmed Ms Butler’s sentiments. She stated a lot of their members were suffering with the COVID experience of their residents, particularly those who were dying. She explained their grief came on top of the extreme stress and pressure they were working under during the pandemic.

“Unfortunately, our members right now feel like they’re on the bottom of the Titanic ship,” Ms Asmar said.

“They do not have proper access to what we believe is PPE.

“A lot of our members right now are feeling the full extent of stress and pressure with the staffing,” she added.

“There is no staffing ratios in aged care in the private sector, which is a shame, because at the moment, prior to the COVID-19, they were understaffed. And now, today, with the COVID-19 outbreak in Victoria, we’re seeing more understaffing as we speak.

“But I think the most devastating news we are experiencing at this moment is that they are requesting to have protection for the residents, and they are not given it.”

While the psychological toll ensuing in aged care was only one of the significant failures in the sector discussed at the Commission this week, Ms Butler said the trauma of what was occurring would continue for many months, if not longer.

“There needs to be urgent support of an emotional, psychological nature provided to personal care workers and others, the cleaners, the laundry staff, all the other in the system, not to mention the relatives and residents… I mean the fallout will be ongoing.”

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