A South West aged care worker says staff are being forgotten

A South West aged care support worker is calling for more help in the sector. Photo from Shutterstock.
A South West aged care support worker is calling for more help in the sector. Photo from Shutterstock.

After 15 years of working as an aged care support worker, South West resident Julie Horrigan has come forward to say she is sick and tired of being forgotten about.

Ms Horrigan told the Mail that as a support worker she was regularly subjected to abuse, physical and verbal from residents.

The abuse comes mainly from high care residents who usually have dementia or Alzheimer's, but there were also male residents who were sexually inappropriate.

"People don't see the abuse and we are just told to turn a blind eye," she said.

Recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aged Care, Quality and Safety was handed down in March this year, and Ms Horrigan said she feared the focus on residents would have a big impact on support workers.

"It doesn't look at the bigger picture," she said.

The commission found around nationally, 39.2 per cent of people living in aged care experience abuse in the form of neglect, emotional or physical abuse.

In the commission's report Care, Dignity and Respect provided 148 recommendations.

Ms Horrigan said there was no client to worker ratio which made it hard to spend the right amount of time with difficult residents.

"What are we supposed to do when a resident has soiled themselves but refuses to receive help to be changed?" she said.

Ms Horrigan said overall she adored her job, which was part of the reason why she had stayed in it for so long but the issues had 'taken the love and joy out of aged care'.

Ms Horrigan is not alone with United Workers Union director of aged care Carolyn Smith saying the problems were common amongst its members.

"Workers know it is no one's fault, but they are on the frontline and it leaves a mark," she said.

Ms Smith said she was told stories of members being pinched, spat on and sexual behaviours as well.

"Another example is when a resident has not had their dentures taken out for a few days, but refuses to receive help," she said.

"They are damned if they do, damned if they don't.

"If they had a couple of hours to spend with that patient then it could be done safely.

"Workers face this everyday and it is exacerbated by the sector being understaffed.

What are we supposed to do when a resident has soiled themselves but refuses to receive help to be changed?

Aged care worker Julie Horrigan

"It is unfair because the support workers are on a lower wage and often would need two to three jobs to get enough money."

When Ms Horrigan received training to become an aged care worker it was a six week course.

She said the course did address violence and sexual behaviour but was told to walk away and then re-approach as well as turn a blind eye.

"I would like to see a way for workers to report the sexual abuse so people can be reprimanded," she said.

Ms Smith echoed what Ms Horrigan said and added that workers wanted more training and support that was relevant to them.

"Not just a booklet put on the lunch table," she said.

Federal minister for senior Australians and aged care services Richard Colbeck said the government recognised staffing was critical to delivering quality aged care.

"In the 2021-22 Budget, the Government announced $3.9 billion to support the introduction of mandatory care minutes to enhance the quality of care provided to our older Australians," he said.

"Under this reform providers will need to ensure an average of 200 minutes care time per day per resident, including at least 40 minutes per day with a registered nurse.

"A registered nurse is also required to be on-site 16 hours per day."

Minister Colbeck said the government provided two free dementia behaviour support programs to help workers response behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia.

"Aged care workers should report any concerns about abuse to their employer who have responsibilities under Workplace, Health and Safety legislation," he said.

The government also introduced a Serious Incident Response Scheme in April 2021 which requires residential aged care providers to manage incidents and take reasonable steps to prevent incidents, including through the use of an incident management system.

"This includes incidents where aged care residents are putting the safety, health and well-being of other people at risk," Minister Colbeck said.

"This includes putting supports in place for those affected, taking action to continuously improve and reduce the likelihood of incidents re-occurring and using information about the incident to inform organisation wide management of risk.

"Where these impact on other care recipients, these must also be reported to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.

"Residential aged care providers are required to proactively manage and support residents with behaviours of concern and these obligations will be strengthened under new Restrictive Practices legislation which, subject to Parliamentary processes, is expected to commence in a staged approach from 1 July 2021."