26 Mar 2022

Covid-19 leads to staffing shortages in Canterbury for aged care and health workers

6:41 am on 26 March 2022

Canterbury nurses who volunteer for extra shifts in aged care are getting payments of $350 per night for covering chronic Covid-related staff shortages.

Doctor using stethoscope to checking Asian senior or elderly old lady woman patient wearing a face mask in hospital for protect infection Covid-19 Coronavirus.

Photo: 123RF

About 300 of the region's 5000 aged residential care staff are isolating after testing positive for the virus, along with household contacts, leaving district health board nurses to plug roster gaps at rest homes, hospitals and dementia units.

The DHB's incident controller, Tracey Maisey, said aged care nurses were receiving $250 for a day shift or $350 for working nights in places where there were critical shortages, but only for a limited period.

"It's what we call an exceptional circumstances payment and it's only for those aged residential care facilities that we consider are critical in terms of staffing," she said.

"At the moment 15 of our 90 ARC facilities are what we call at critical levels."

About 30 percent of Canterbury's aged care facilities have residents with Covid-19.

Auckland nurses and midwives were offered a $500 bonus for working extra overnight shifts, as staffing shortages climbed to 25 percent during the city's Omicron peak.

The number of new community cases in Canterbury dipped below 3000 for the first time in almost a week on Friday, when 2910 positive results were recorded.

Of those, 2659 cases were in the Canterbury DHB area and 251 in the South Canterbury DHB region.

Ministry of Health figures show 60 people are in hospital.

More than 500 Canterbury DHB doctors, nurses, midwives and other health staff are off work because of Covid-19 - 328 of them have tested positive for the virus, including 60 specialist mental health staff.

About 15 percent of nurses are off, along with 13 percent of allied health workers, such as medical technicians, physiotherapists and laboratory workers.

Tracey Maisey said the DHB had modelled a peak of about 3300 daily cases and 95 people in hospital, but it was too soon to say whether Canterbury numbers had peaked.

"I'll wait and see a few more days yet, but I do know we're certainly not at peak for hospitalisations," she said.

Maisey said about 15 percent of patients treated at Christchurch Hospital's emergency department were testing positive for the virus.

Most elective surgery has been postponed because of the staff shortages, but the hospital is still treating cancer patients and people who have been in accidents or suffered major trauma.

Part-time employees are working extra shifts, full-time staff are doing overtime, and people are being redeployed to areas where there are shortages.

Maisey said the closure of Managed Isolation and Quarantine hotels had freed up about 80 nurses, while dental therapists and assistants had been working at rapid antigen test sites.

Nurses Organisation president Anne Daniels, who works in Dunedin Hospital's emergency department, said nurses were struggling.

"We've got nurses off sick, nurses isolating, everybody's plugging the gaps and they're doing that by working huge amounts of overtime, double shifts and extra shifts," she said.

"We were already exhausted before Covid came along from short-staffing, now I suspect that our endurance and our resilience and our ability to stay well is being compromised."

Daniels said staff shortages were particularly challenging for mental health nurses, who worked in partnership for safety reasons.

"Having another 60 nurses off is just making it very, very difficult to keep the clients safe and keep each other safe," she said.

The government has reduced the number of days nurses have to isolate, even allowing them to return to work with mild Covid-19 symptoms.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs