We must better value our aged care workers

23 February 2022

CANBERRA MATTERS - Cessnock Advertiser

Aged care is being talked about a lot at the moment, and it is a subject that I care greatly about.

I have spent quite a bit of time in aged care recently, visiting my beautiful mother Joy, who sadly passed away last week.

She was 90, and I cannot fault the staff of the Kurri Kurri Masonic Village where mum lived for the past year.

My family and I are so grateful for their devotion to her in her final months.

Throughout lockdowns they continued to do their utmost to ensure residents' physical needs were met, but also that their emotional needs were met, encouraging contact with family when visits were not possible. For that we are immensely grateful.

In the course of my work, I have heard from several distressed families who have been unable to visit their parents and grandparents in aged care because of lockdowns and visitor restrictions brought in because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I understand their frustration and I know the vast majority of aged care facilities have done their best to accommodate everyone's needs.

But they have struggled. And they continue to struggle.

They have had the very difficult job of keeping our older and vulnerable Australians safe from COVID.

And unfortunately, in too many cases, that has not been possible. My heart goes out to all those who have lost elderly family through COVID.

Chronic staff shortages have seen the Australian Defence Force brought in to help in aged care facilities because there are too few workers on the ground.

Whether they are sick, or isolating, or exhausted after working through more than two years of a pandemic, aged care workers are in short supply.

And a survey has found that more than half of those remaining are thinking about leaving. That is truly shocking.

We must look back before the pandemic to see the beginnings of this crisis in aged care.

The sector has been in trouble for a decade and the Liberal Government's response has been abysmal.

We all want every Australian to get quality care.

To get quality care, we need quality aged care workers. And that means we need to pay them what they deserve.

It is great that we have been able to bring in Defence to help, but that is only a short-term plan.

There are deep structural problems in this sector that must be fixed.

Aged care workers are overworked and undervalued.

On top of the usual demands of their jobs, they have had to wear Personal Protective Equipment and test regularly with Rapid Antigen Tests, and both have been in short supply. They have had numerous and changing protocols to follow.

We need to ensure aged care facilities have adequate staffing numbers.

One way to do that is to ensure aged care workers are paid enough.

If elected, a Labor Government will make a submission to the Fair Work Commission supporting an increase in pay for aged care workers.

I want to thank everyone who is working tirelessly to keep our older and vulnerable Australians safe. To you we are immensely grateful.