Don’t waste opportunity to fix aged care, say ACU experts

ACU aged care experts say the final report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care and Safety needs to be the tipping point required to ensure the needs of vulnerable older Australians are respected after decades of shocking neglect.

Associate Professor Jenneke Foottit, deputy head of school of nursing, midwifery and paramedic medicine (Qld) said her own experiences as a registered nurse in aged care and of teaching nursing students, aligned with the Commission findings.

“In my former role I had students coming back from placement absolutely distressed about not being able to put into practice what we taught them because there was never enough time,” she said.

“What you end up with is either people who become so emotionally blunted that they don’t care anymore because it’s too stressful to care, or they burn out, give up and walk away.”

She said that constant pressure to reduce costs and a perception that aged care nursing is less challenging than acute care has led to a prevalence of low-skilled and casual staff in aged care and chronic understaffing.

“We need to be really serious about whether we value our older adults and are prepared to put our money where our mouths are,” she said.

Aged care researcher Dr Bridget Laging welcomed the report saying that the “stand-out” recommendations on her initial view were to improve the care of the workers, mandating of staff ratios and minimum care hours, and the introduction of a star rating to increase transparency of aged care facilities.

“We are talking about looking after older people but equally we need to be looking after people who are providing that care,” she said. “It’s fundamentally important that a focus on ensuring safe and timely care relies on a workforce that feels safe and able to do that. That’s something I hope will really come through with all of this.”

Dr Laging said the final report missed the need to address the devaluing of older people in society.

“We know from our previous research that aged care remains an unattractive and devalued area of practice,” she said.

“Interventions to enhance recruitment, including addressing systemic ageism that has devalued older people and those who care for them, is an essential step – one that sadly was inadequately addressed in the commission report.

“Instead, the commissioners have laid responsibility entirely at the feet of providers and the healthcare workforce, which misses a fundamental stage in shifting societal views of caring roles and our collective responsibility to look out for the vulnerable, including older people and those with high levels of dependency.”

Read the full story in the Catholic Weekly here.

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