20 Apr 2020

Residential aged care sector understaffed - union

12:09 pm on 20 April 2020

A union representing residential aged care workers says there has been no consultation from the Ministry of Health on what an extra $26 million in funding is for.

No caption

Photo: 123RF

On Saturday, Minister of Health David Clark announced the government was spending $200 million on purchasing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

*See all RNZ coverage of Covid-19

Also included in the announcement was that $26 million was being spent to support residential aged care providers.

"Many health care providers are incurring new costs directly related to Covid-19 - none more so than residential aged care, which takes care of some of our most vulnerable people," Clark said in a statement.

E Tū union director Sam Jones told Morning Report it's still not clear what the $26 million is intended for.

"Because of a lack of engagement with the Ministry we're unclear on what outcomes the government is trying to achieve with this.

"What we are very clear about is that Covid has exposed a lot of problems in the sector, it certainly isn't the origin of those problems and they've just been compounded at the moment, so there is a wider long term fix that is definitely needed and it can't be achieved without input from all of the stakeholders."

Jones said understaffing remains the main priority for the sector.

"Basically the staffing levels in residential aged care are set by guidelines that came about in around 2005 and the acuity and level of care required in rest homes is so much higher than what it was then, it's just mind-boggling that it hasn't been reviewed since.

"It can be as bad as one caregiver to 10 funded residents, you can have one to 20, it's two to 29 and one on call, and so as you can imagine with the high level of acuity that's pretty impossible for workers to do a decent job."

Jones said there isn't a big problem with finding the right people for the job as there are enough workers with transferrable skills in other industries that have lost their jobs and looking for work.

He said what's troubling the sector is workers' wages.

"The pay rate is always an issue, in particular one of the ones we've identified right now is the service workers in aged care are still on or around the minimum wage and right at this moment we talk about how important these essential jobs such as cleaning are yet there's no solution there for these workers that are living on poverty wages going into these environments continuing to work at risk ... potentially take it [Covid-19] home to their families.

"You've seen a few rest home providers put a short term cash injection into the wages, well it needs to be fixed long term."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs