Making the COVID-19 jab compulsory for all nursing home workers could tip an already strained sector over the edge, union leaders fear.
But families want urgent action to protect their loved ones.
Daughter of COVID-positive aged care residents in the NSW suburb of Baulkham Hills, Kathie Melocco, says unvaccinated workers should not be caring for the elderly.
“They can issue those orders pretty damn quickly to keep us locked in our houses but they can’t do this to protect our elderly,” she told 2GB on Tuesday.
National Cabinet agreed a month ago that COVID-19 vaccinations would be mandatory for all residential aged care workers by September 17, through state and territory public health orders.
The United Workers Union wants state and federal governments to reconsider the September deadline, warning it will push workers out of a sector that’s already unattractive because of low wages and uncertain rosters.
Western Australia’s chief health officer signed an emergency order on Monday to meet the deadline for at least one dose, but the orders are not in place elsewhere.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says health orders are up to the states and territories but NSW health minister Brad Hazzard, who’s in a state where the deadly Delta variant is reaching into aged care, insists it’s still unclear.
“The Federal Government hasn’t given us any direction of what they want in their aged care facilities in terms of the precision of it,” Hazzard told reporters.
The fears come as an influential think tank projects at least 110,000 extra aged care staff are needed within the next decade or families will face an untenable care burden.
Aged care staff currently care for more than 1.3 million Australians, both at home and in residential care, and face low wages and inconsistent working hours.
The sector’s business model also relies on thousands of well-meaning volunteers.
The Committee for Economic Development of Australia report said an extra 17,000 personal care assistants, nurses and allied health staff are needed each year just to meet basic standards of care.
CEDA chief economist Jarrod Ball warns the worker shortage will balloon to 400,000 by 2050 without dramatic Federal Government action.
Nearly 20 per cent of the population is expected to be aged over 65 in a decade, up from about 16 per cent, so demand for care will only keep growing.
“This requires a massive commitment from the Federal Government, the kind we haven’t seen to date,” Ball said.
Community expectations are high for genuine reform of the sector after the aged care royal commission made almost 150 recommendations.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt says expansion of the home care workforce is underway.
Applications close on August 27 for the $91.8 million Home Care Workforce Support Program.
“The grants will support the employment of 6000 new personal care workers in 2021-22 and 7000 more in the following year, including an increase in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander personal care workers,” Mr Hunt said.
The strained system needs older Australians to remain in their homes for as long as possible.