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Rest Home Incidents Symptoms of Staffing Shortage

New Zealand Nurses Organisation

Media Release

17 July 2008


Rest Home Incidents Symptoms of Staffing Shortage

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation says recent reports of incidents endangering the health and safety of rest home residents are reflective of an industry struggling to recruit and retain the levels of staff required to provide adequate care.

Members of NZNO and the Service and Food Workers Union: Nga Ringa Tota have been highlighting the staffing issues in Aged Care for a number of years now, lobbying providers and Government to address the three fundamental causes of inadequate care for elderly Kiwis: Low pay, lack of training and unsafe staffing.

Caregivers and support staff have mostly had to rely on increases to the minimum wage to receive any kind of pay rise. Wages for nurses and caregivers working in Aged Care lag well behind their colleagues in the public sector. “The turnover rate in Aged Care is as much as 40% annually,” says NZNO Organiser Lynley Mulrine. “Many staff simply ask themselves why they would continue such high-pressure, back-breaking work when they could earn as much if not more in a supermarket.  They do it because it’s a labour of love. They certainly don’t do it for the money.”

“Many providers could afford to pay their staff more but choose not to. It is a disgrace that public money is handed over without requiring employers to pay acceptable pay rates, maintain safe staffing levels and provide adequate training.  The impact of this is felt not only by the workforce but as these incidents demonstrate, impacts on the quality of care of our elderly and so affects whole communities.”

“Caregiving is skilled work and yet much of the workforce has no access to adequate training.  With high turnover, vacancies are filled by untrained staff.  Fully funded training would have a direct and positive impact on the quality of care provided to older people in residential facilities and a significant impact on the recruitment and retention of caregiving staff.”

“In 2005, the Ministry of Health established “Indicators for Safe Staffing” in Aged Care. These are voluntary guidelines that recommend minimum staffing levels.  However our experience shows that actual staffing levels routinely fall well below these and there is no way that we can enforce them. Short staffing leads to nurses and caregivers becoming overworked, stressed and unable to deliver the kind of care they know their residents deserve.”

“Members tell us everyday how much they love and respect their residents and how deeply it hurts that they can’t deliver the kind of care they want to. Instead of just reacting to every incident that hits the news, a deliberate strategy to ensure older New Zealanders get the care they deserve is long overdue. The only way to ensure that happens is to address low pay, regulate staffing numbers and provide training and support to the workforce,” says Lynley Mulrine

NZNO and SFWU are currently gathering signatures for a petition to the House of Representatives calling for mandatory, enforceable safe staffing regulations to be introduced.



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