Aged care workers have painted a devastating picture of life inside aged care facilities with omicron.
In first-hand accounts and a major survey released today, aged care workers have reported on the impact of a virus ripping through aged care facilities, slashing standards of care and risking the survival of frail residents.
In a United Workers Union survey of 900 workers – mainly based in Queensland and South Australia – more than 80 per cent of the aged care workers reported on the impact of working in facilities with outbreaks of omicron.
Data released by the Federal Government on Friday shows 1198 active outbreaks in residential aged care facilities with the number of active Covid cases in facilities soaring to 19,000 – up from 7000 the previous week.
Aged care workers tell how omicron has created chaos in aged care facilities nationally, heaping pressure on an already understaffed, low-paid and exhausted workforce.
In their testimonies, aged care workers reveal breakdowns in infection control processes and harsh impacts on residents, with one-in-ten reporting they are being asked to work even when they are ill:
“I don’t feel safe to work since I don’t get tested frequently. I requested the test because I had to work in the areas which don’t have positive residents, the day after I assisted positive residents. They said no.” – Aged care worker, South Australia.
“Residents are being put at risk because of the critical understaffing in the facility.” – Aged care worker, Queensland.
“We have staff being moved from between the Covid affected areas to non infected areas and the management is turning a blind eye so they can say there was staff.” – Aged care worker, Queensland.
“In our facility more than 80% of staff are positive – they are using our sick leave and annual leave to pay us. That’s not right.” – Aged care worker, South Australia.
In the survey workers detail they struggle to get adequate PPE – more than a third say they either don’t have any PPE or it’s highly limited and likely to run out – and the lack of Rapid Antigen Tests – 56 per cent of workers say they are not being tested at all.
The workers also paint a picture of a demoralised workforce being pushed beyond their limits, facing high pressure to work extra shifts and extra days without any boosted pay or recognition.
Almost 80 per cent of workers report they are stressed, exhausted and confused by the constantly changing demands of omicron.
And almost 60 per cent report they are frequently being asked to work double shifts.
In response to the dire conditions in aged care facilities, aged care workers in Queensland and South Australia have demanded the Prime Minister, Scott Morrision, take responsibility or bear the consequences of further departures from a shattered workforce.
Aged care workers are demanding:
- Regular access to testing.
- A special Covid wage top-up.
- Paid pandemic leave.
- Appropriate PPE and infection control processes.
- A national response to the aged care staffing crisis.
“It is frankly appalling that two years into the Covid-19 pandemic aged care workers are struggling to gain even the most basic pieces of PPE or even get tested,” Carolyn Smith, United Workers Union Aged Care Director, said today.
“Omicron has knocked aged care facilities over like a bowling ball and aged care workers are the ones left to pick up the pieces.
“It’s a scandal that Scott Morrison has not addressed the issues facing older Australians and aged care workers.”
- 80 per cent of workers reported on the impact of Covid in their facility.
- One third of workers do not feel confident they know how to manage Covid positive residents.
- 56 per cent of workers say they are not being provided with rapid antigen tests.
- More than a third of aged care workers say they either don’t have any PPE or it’s highly limited and likely to run out.
- A quarter of workers say they are not being provided with N95 masks, another quarter say they are provided but they are not correctly fitted.
- 78 per cent of workers say they are stressed, exhausted and confused.
- 61 per cent of workers say they are understaffed worse than usual.
- 58 per cent of workers say they are frequently asked to work double shifts.
- 24 per cent of workers say they have had leave cancelled.
- 19 per cent of workers say they have been asked to work while a close contact, 12 per cent while waiting for test results and 10 per cent while sick.
Further statements by aged care workers include:
“These poor residents are being isolated from their families and made to stay in their rooms for months on end – they are depressed and anxious.” – Aged care worker, Queensland.
“If a resident is positive they ask care staff to attend and do medicine because nurses are not allowed to go to the residents’ room if they are Covid positive.” – Aged care worker, South Australia.
“I’m sick of getting asked to stay back after wearing full PPE all day.” – Aged care worker, South Australia.
“I’m struggling to breathe at work, these N95 masks, shields and gowns are disgusting. I feel dizzy, workers are irritable, the residents are getting cabin fever, the place is a nightmare to work at.” – Aged care worker, South Australia.
“I am now working 12 hour shifts in Covid positive ward and was told by facility manager that I ‘had it easy’.”- Aged care worker, Queensland.
“We were told we would get extra staff if we had an outbreak. This has not happened. We were told positive cases would not be treated on site. Instead only one went to hospital. People are missing medication, food and fluids. We do not have access to proper PPE. I have had to source my own. We were told we would have a wage increase and this too has not yet happened.”- Aged care worker, South Australia.
“I am wearing same face shield for more than a month and when asked for change they told us they don’t have extra so wipe it wash it and reuse it.” – Aged care worker, South Australia.
“I cannot keep up with how exhausting this work is and how much more responsibility my team is given without a reasonable increase in pay. I’m planning to quit soon.” – Aged care worker, Queensland.
“Everything at work is gossip on which staff has Covid, no clear answers or discussion. I worked closely with a staff member for a whole day who tested positive and I asked if they had any RAT tests so I don’t put residents in danger. They said they only had 2 and don’t want to use them on me because I was wearing an N95 mask so I wasn’t deemed a close contact … It’s very disorganised and I am trying to avoid “having a life”- ie going out/socialising – so I don’t infect any residents. The whole aged care sector right now has gone from terrible to horrifying.” – Aged care worker, Queensland.