Aged care workers have painted a devastating picture of life inside aged care facilities with Omicron, according to the United Workers Union.
In first-hand accounts and a major survey released yesterday by the union, aged care workers have revealed the impact of a virus ripping through aged care facilities, slashing standards of care and risking the survival of frail residents.
In a 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 speak of 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, ” an aged care worker in South Australia said.
“Residents are being put at risk because of the critical understaffing in the facility,” another in Queensland said.
“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,” another Queensland aged care worker said.
“In our facility more than 80 per cent of staff are positive – they are using our sick leave and annual leave to pay us. That’s not right,” another South Australian worker said.
In the survey, workers detail how 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. Fifty-six 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, 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,” United Workers Union aged care director Carolyn Smith, said.
“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.”
A summary of the survey results:
- 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.