12 Jul 2022

Aged care sector: Provider pleads for change to immigration setting for nurses

11:29 am on 12 July 2022

The government must fast-track residency for foreign aged care nurses to avoid further crisis in the sector, a provider says.

Older man in wheelchair wearing face mask.

It is no longer mandatory to wear face masks in health and aged care facilities after the government announced all remaining Covid-19 restrictions were being dropped from 15 August 2023. Photo: 123RF

The aged care sector could collapse within the next six months without the government's urgent intervention, chief executive of Presbyterian Support Otago Jo Rowe said.

More than 1000 beds in rest homes lie empty because of a lack of nurses and the costs of running aged care facilities are skyrocketing in places.

Presbyterian Support Otago operates nine care homes across Otago.

Rowe told Morning Report the sector was in peril because of the low number of registered nurses and the high number of vacancies.

With 36,000 beds in aged care around the country and 1000 of them unable to be occupied, residents needed to be somewhere.

The sector could no longer meet the needs of many of the residents who needed hospital dementia or psycho-geriatric level care requiring registered nurses 24 hours a day.

Rowe said nurses in aged care were paid at a lower rate than those working in other areas of public health so the majority of positions were filled by overseas nurses.

"So the immigration settings that we have make it extremely difficult now for those nurses to come in so allowing them residence prior to them arriving or on arrival would make us a much more attractive option."

The overseas nurses had other options from other countries, such as Australia, where the pay was also much higher.

"We need to change our immigration settings and allow these nurses to enter the country much easier."

Rowe said it was ridiculous that there was not pay parity for all nurses in New Zealand.

A community nurse or registered nurse working in the aged care sector needed specific skills.

"Caring for people with dementia and psycho-geriatric conditions is an absolute specialism and it takes a lot of skill and a lot of training."

She said her organisation was a not-for-profit charitable provider so was also at a disadvantage when paying wages compared with the bigger providers.

Commercial providers could subsidise wages from fees earned from their retirement villages.

"But from what I'm hearing even commercial providers are actually struggling now to match the level of what nurses are being paid in the DHBs."

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