24 May 2022

Family fears as aged care faces staffing struggle: 'It's heartbreaking'

7:48 am on 24 May 2022

Families are fearing for the future as aged care facilities continue to close their beds for new patients due to a lack of nurses.

No caption

Photo: 123rf

A call for a meeting from the aged care home made Todd Smith uncertain about the future of his intellectually disabled 58 year-old sister Denise.

"We were told that 23 people from the home had to find new homes. We found that Denise was one of the residents that had to move," he said.

Denise had to move homes for the second time in five years, due to the lack of nurses to look after her.

"It was a complete shock for the family. I mean, this is Denise's home, and she loves her home and she loves the staff and the residents. And then also that was an element of stress and anxiety because we were thinking if that gets worse, if there are less nurses and less beds, what other homes can we go to?"

Katherine Scapolo feared moving her 86-year-old father had hit him hard.

"He went markedly downhill when we moved him last time and that's probably the thing that worries me the most, it's what this will do to his well-being", she said.

Meanwhile, Scapolo has also got her mother to worry about.

"My mum needs hospital level care and while she refuses to go into care right now, there will come a time when that she will need to go into care. And that's no room for her, right!? So nobody is taking anybody in because anybody have any nurses. So I'm really concerned about what's going to happen to her," she said.

Ambridge Rose looks after three facilities in Auckland with more than 170 beds in hospital and dementia care.

Its CEO Allan Sargent said hiring to fill his most recent vacancies had been challenging.

"We just had one of our clinical leads resign due to the fact she is going overseas and we can't get anybody to replace her, there is nobody up there."

Sargent said the Ministry of Health wasn't helping.

"They are constantly asking us what are our plans to ensure that we can meet our contractional obligation, but if there aren't any registered nurses in New Zealand, available, we just have to take the risk of how we are handling our own facilities and making sure we got the coverage to the best of our availability".

The recent survey by the lobby group Aged Care Matters shows that just over two thirds of the resthomes who responded may be forced to restrict admissions because of the nursing shortage and some may have to close in the next 12 months.

Katherine Scapolo feared the uncertainty would impact generations to come.

"So what happens when I get to that point, where I need care? Will the whole thing be such a bloody mess that we won't have this kind of care for the next generation of elderly coming up. What's going to happen to them?" she said.

Scapolo hoped her dad, who was still settling into his new home, could stay there.

"I expect dad not to have to move again. I expect him to get the appropriate level of care and to be able to know that there are people there that are suitably qualified to make sure that his health is looked after."

A Ministry of Health spokesperson said the ministry was aware of the concerns raised about the pay disparity between registered nurses employed within aged care, and their DHB-employed counterparts.

The ministry said it was aware that there was variability in the terms and conditions of employment, including remuneration, for nursing workforces across the health system and assured it was committed to reviewing and addressing pay parity to ensure that nursing staff are fairly and equitably paid for the work they do, irrespective of the health setting.

Through a statement, the ministry said work was underway to develop a framework and processes and discussions were also taking place with sector representatives to ensure their concerns were considered, and options to address current shortages developed.

  • Hutt Hospital patients, nurses say local health service vital
  • Collapse in care workers' pay talks shows little has changed for women workers
  • Family 'shocked' rest home is offering $500 to families who find them a nurse to hire