Money alone won’t resolve aged care crisis

Nursing lady holds the hands of a patient in the hospice as a terminal care

According to the Aged Care Workforce Strategy report, commissioned by the Federal Government, nurses and personal care workers in the aged-care sector should be given pay rises that match “their value and contribution” on the front line in supporting older Australians.

However, Senior Employment Relations Adviser, Edmund Fry, from Employsure says there are two underlying issues in the aged care sector that cannot be resolved solely with higher wage rates. To start, there is a general lack of regulation. There are also benefits in improving staff management practices.

“The solution is in the wellbeing of staff,” Fry said. “We believe aged care workers are stressed and fatigued so it’s important to address health and safety conditions, and better employee management.”

Employsure’s research shows one in five health and personal care employees don’t feel they receive reasonable recognition for their efforts at work. One in three say they would work harder if they received more recognition. Only 35 per cent said they would work harder if they were paid more.

Fry said that this illustrates aged care and personal care operators can get the same productivity improvements by rewarding and recognising staff.

“Reward and recognition is just as effective in improved productivity as a pay rise. It is certainly a lot easier and has long-term benefits,” he said.

Mandy Kursat, an Employsure client and Operations Manager at Aged Care GP says, “Aged care operators can derive better working conditions for workers by removing workload pressures by introducing staff to patient quotas.”

Contrary to common belief, Kursat says throwing money at people is not the answer.

“You are better off spending money on engaging more employees to fix the structural problems. Increasing the workforce size with measures to attract, retain and develop the aged care workforce.”

Fry also notes the evidence of poor working conditions in the aged care sector, lack of sector-wide career structures, difficulties for workers in accessing development opportunities and concerns over workplace health and safety.

“We hear from our clients in health and personal care services industry how challenging it can be to attract and retain qualified, skilled and appropriate staff, particularly in rural and remote communities. Part of the issue is the poor reputation of the sector—when people are choosing a career path, aged care might be less attractive compared to qualified nursing roles,” Fry said.

There are over 5.5 million Australians aged over 50. Some of the oldest are already moving into aged care. To accommodate the needs of the rising population will require a quadrupling of the aged-care workforce by 2050.