Have you ever thought about how long it takes for you to roll out of bed on a frosty morning, shuffle to the bathroom, turn on the shower, strip off your nighty, shower and dry yourself and then get fully dressed for the day ahead? Do you think you could do this in just six minutes? Do you think you could manage this in six minutes if you were frail aged, had mobility problems, memory loss or cognitive impairment?

Currently in our nursing homes there are no mandatory staff to resident ratios. This means that facilities can employ as many or as few staff as suits their budgets. Consequently, many facilities are significantly understaffed and workers are required to work hard and fast to ensure that residents are attended to. This means it is quite common for a resident to have just six minutes allocated for their personal care in the morning.

I can remember working in an aged care facility in Adelaide many years ago and being told by a supervisor that I had exactly six minutes to shower each of my eight allocated residents in a morning. I literally ran from one resident to the next, sweating and panting. When one of these beautiful ladies asked me to put her lippy on for her I had to think twice and weigh up if it was worth being caught doing something “unnecessary”. Of course I put her lippy on for her– it’s what she would have done for herself if her own hands still did as she wanted. And, I was caught by an RN and later told that lipstick is really a “luxury” and I should not have spent the extra time and set up unrealistic expectations for this lady into the future. Another time a resident told me that she always liked it when I showered her because I took the time to dry between her toes. Surely, drying between a person’s toes is a basic hygiene necessity rather than a luxury.

So, if there are just six minutes allocated to a resident for personal care, how many minutes can they expect to receive for social support, feeding assistance, toileting throughout the day, etc? The answer is not many and subject to availability of staff. Workers often do try their best, but at the end of the day, staffing levels are absolutely relevant to ensuring that residents’ basic needs are being met in aged care facilities.

Why then is the government so resistant to introducing mandatory staffing ratios in aged care?

Nobody would willingly move into residential aged care if they were able-bodied and independent. In fact, statistics show that we are transitioning into this type of accommodation much later in life, when we are unable to manage living at home any longer.

In many ways, our elderly should be treated as carefully and considerately as our children, since they are also fragile and vulnerable. Australia’s National Quality Standards mandate that children from birth to 24 months in all states and territories are allocated at least one care worker for every four children in child care. On the other hand, our elderly are lucky to have one worker to every eight residents in aged care. However, at night time, many facilities may have only one RN and one worker to care for up to 95 residents. Remember that these are fully grown adults, many with incontinence, fear, confusion and challenging behaviours.

On September 16, 2018, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the Government’s decision to establish a Royal Commission into the aged care sector. Of course, this Royal Commission will take time and may not even result in a recommendation of mandatory staffing ratios. So, in the mean time, if you are considering a residential aged care facility for yourself or a loved one, consider engaging an independent Aged Care Placement Consultant to help you through the process of choosing a facility. Placement Consultants should be aware of individual facility staffing ratios amongst other things and they are available to help navigate, negotiate and advocate on your behalf. An independent consultancy service such as Your Aged Care Companion will consider a range of facilities, rather than focusing on a particular brand of facility so you can be sure that you will be offered honest and unbiased advice.

Your Aged Care Companion is located at 471 The Parade, Magill and we can be contacted on 8332 8409. Feel free to call us for an Initial Consultation to help plan and explain your aged care accommodation options.