Jill Dexter, a mother of four and veteran of more than 50 years in the aged care industry, is imploring both sides of parliament this International Nurses Day to commit to decisive action on the aged care crisis.
Naturally drawn to helping people, Dexter commenced her nursing career in the 1970s, working in a variety of frontline roles before later becoming the manager of BaptistCare Carey Gardens, a 65-bed aged care facility in Canberra, where she now oversees a team of in excess of 60 staff.
She tells Aged Care News that today is a day to reflect on the phenomenal work nurses do across the country for older Australians, but also upon the failures of the present Government to support this invaluable profession.
“I believe all my support staff need a gold medal,” she says.
“They are strong advocates for their residents, but now we need an advocate for nurses.”
The COVID-19 pandemic proved a challenging curveball for the already stretched workforce, Dexter says, though she counts her facility as one of the lucky ones.
“It’s been all about keeping our residents safe and being able to continually provide that high level of care — but there have been challenges,” she laments.
“The extra workload has been phenomenal…
“I didn’t need to get agency staff in, or any additional staff because my staff actually volunteered to do extra shifts.”
“It’s really the attitude of the staff here and working as a team [that kept us afloat]; we’ve got a very positive team here at Carrie Gardens.”
It is incomprehensible to Dexter that after countless inquiries — including the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety — and the ravages of the pandemic, that more decisive action has not been taken on the aged care crisis.
“Poor staffing levels and the staffing ratios really need to be addressed.”
“Wages need to be addressed as a matter of urgency, it’s at a critical level now and being a frontline manager, I see evidence of that every day,” Dexter says.
“I got an email today [from] one of my staff asking if she could have more hours.
“The challenges of everyday living now are really impacting on her… A lot of people just resign, or go into the acute care set sector.”
BaptistCare recently commissioned a survey, carried out by YouGov, which polled the community on their sentiment towards aged care and the rights of workers.
The consensus is that not only do frontline workers care about the crisis; the whole nation is crying out for Government action.
A whopping 83 per cent indicated that aged care was an ‘important issue’, with the perceived adequacy of government policies to address the crisis capable of swaying their vote.
Furthermore, 96 per cent indicating that the new government should prioritise increased funding for the sector after the election.
The survey also found that when presented with a list of occupations, Australians are more likely to rank hospital workers and aged care workers ahead of accountants, builders, sanitation workers, landscapers and hospitality workers as deserving of higher pay.
“I don’t care which government gets elected, they must put it on the priority list, because we need people who are going to be there in the future, looking after the elderly and the vulnerable, but they’re not going to be there at this rate,” Dexter says.
“They love what they do, but how long can they hang out? Unfortunately, we’re not meeting their financial needs, so they will go elsewhere.”
Another unaddressed issue pertaining to the workforce crisis refers to staffing ratios.
Although the incoming AN-ACC funding model includes provision for minimum care minutes, including 40 minutes of care from a registered nurse, the industry has not been given a clear picture yet of how this will translate to staff-to-patient ratios.
“In a hospital, you might get one to four, but here, I’ve got two staff looking after 21 residents… they just work so hard, so the staffing ratios have to be addressed.”
Overall, Dexter finds the crisis an absolutely tragedy for the profession, with thousands of talented, dedicated nurses across the country keen to make a career out of nursing, but the current climate makes it simply unfeasible.
“Nursing is a wonderful career— I love it,” she says.
“It gives you so much satisfaction; you’re helping the vulnerable, the sick, and you get so much reward from doing that.
“It’s just so sad… a lot of people want to come into aged care [to work], but we don’t have the staffing ratios and we don’t have the pay to support their long term careers.
“I urge and appeal to the to the next government to take this on as their top priority.”
More about Baptist Care
BaptistCare is a leading not-for-profit Christian based care organisation that has been serving the aged and people living with disadvantage since 1944.
BaptistCare supports 17,500 people across 75 locations across NSW and the ACT, offering a range of services which include residential aged care, in-home support, retirement living.
They also provide a range of additional community services, such as affordable housing, no-interest loans, and services for women and children escaping violence.