Short-staffing, lack of safe nurse-to-resident ratios and outsourcing of essential services has contributed to issues at an Albion Park aged care home now under sanctions, according to staff and their unions.
The Federal Government has imposed restrictions on Ridgeview at Albion Park after a review this month by the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency (AACQA) found several areas of non-compliance with national accreditation standards.
Matthew Lamey, chief operations officer of the home run by Christadelphian Aged Care, said management was working closely with the department and the quality agency to meet all 44 standards.
However Ridgeview staff and their unions claim that chronic understaffing and the recent announcement that catering and laundry services would soon be outsourced – leading to several job losses – had affected staff morale.
Staff at the provider’s aged care homes across NSW and QLD were advised by management at the start of June that nine full-time employees and 116 part time employees would be affected by the outsourcing of these services, to be implemented by the end of July.
Health Services Union regional organiser Randall Millington said outsourcing of essential services was becoming more and more common in aged care facilities across the state.
“The management of these homes don’t seem to think cooking and cleaning is their core business – but if feeding your residents and supplying them with clean sheets and facilities isn’t part of their core business, then I’m not sure what is,” he said.
“Since Christadelphian announced it would be outsourcing catering and laundry services we’ve had concerns from members, as well as complaints from residents and relatives. Residents build up relationships with all their caregivers – and that includes the ones who serve their meals and clean their linen.
“Contractors coming in aren’t up to speed with policies and procedures, and other staff including nurses are often forced to fill any gaps in service.”
A Christadelphian Aged Care spokesperson said the organisation had partnered with an “experienced aged care food services and facility management company” in an effort to “refine our dining experience and laundry services”. Where possible, affected staff would be offered redeployment within the organisation.
“The (new company) will provide all aspects of catering and laundry services, including cooking, wait service, clear-up and tea rounds, which will allow for an even greater focus on care for our residents,” the spokesperson said.
However NSW Nurses and Midwives Association general secretary Brett Holmes said Ridgeview had also been reducing the numbers of registered nurses as part of a “restructure” since late last year.
“This clearly is an issue that has an impact on standards of care, quality of care and safety of residents at the facility,” he said.
“It’s in line which the reduction in the numbers of registered nurses employed in aged care facilities across the state over a number of years leading to a crisis around staffing and skill mixes.
“Without legislated nurse-to-resident ratios we will continue to see these sort of outcomes (sanctions) … which is devastating for staff who try their hardest but there’s simply not enough of them to provide the care they’d like.”
Meantime a Ridgeview staff member, who wished to remain anonymous, said nurses were doing their utmost to provide quality care for their residents.
“The main priority of the nurses has, and always will, be the residents,” the staff member stated.
“Nurses are cutting their breaks short or not having breaks to ensure the residents needs are met. We are constantly having to work short staffed as staff are leaving for other facilities.
“Families complained that there wasn’t enough staff, so agency staff were hired when necessary. Families then complained that there was agency staff and this made care inconsistent.
“Due to being short staffed we are not always 100 per cent completing documentation which lets us down. This is happening as we are busy attending to the care of residents.”
Ridgeview is one of four Illawarra aged care facilities that has failed to meet AACQA standards in the past 14 months. Marco Polo at Unanderra has until October 31 to meet all standards, while Garrawarra and Hillside at Figtree have regained accreditation after sanctions were imposed last year.
The details of the areas of non-compliance at Ridgeview will be released publicly after a meeting of staff, residents and relatives at the Daintree Drive home.
Nick Ryan, CEO of the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency, said over recent years the agency had strengthened its risk-based regulatory approach to ensure the aged care sector met standards for safety and quality care.
“A risk-based approach means directing more regulatory resources to areas of greatest risk based on information and intelligence,” he said. “Our focus in compliance monitoring has been on areas of known risk and previous non-compliance.”
Mr Ryan said AACQA was also receiving more referrals of information from its regulatory partners and the community. “The agency is quick to act on such referrals. These factors have contributed to an increase in findings of non-compliance over recent years.”
There are 913 residential aged care services in NSW and the ACT, with each home receiving at least one unannounced visit per year.
“The majority of homes provide quality care to their residents and in instances where non-compliance with the standards is identified, most homes work quickly to rectify the non-compliance,” Mr Ryan said.