FEDERAL ELECTION

2022 federal election | Aged care sector workers call for better pay and conditions

Capecare chief executive officer Joanne Penman. Picture is supplied.

Capecare chief executive officer Joanne Penman. Picture is supplied.

"The issue is bigger than anybody understands and needs to be addressed."

Elisha Norton has been an aged care worker in the South West for seven years and is urging people to pay attention to the issues of the sector, particularly for the 2022 federal election.

Ms Norton said every day her facility was understaffed.

"If an area has 32 residents, on a good day there would be four staff and on a bad day there would two," she said.

As a result, residents get the "bare minimum care".

"You run yourself stupid on a bad day," Ms Norton said.

Over the last seven years Ms Norton said her pay had risen by just four dollars an hour.

As a single mother of three children, this is getting harder to maintain.

"I'm not in it for the money but it will get to that point," she said.

"I love my job and can't see myself getting into a different industry."

She doesn't blame her employer though, because "they are just doing what they are legally required to do".

"They won't pay more because they don't have to," Ms Norton said.

Regis Aged Care declined to comment.

Aged care provider in Dunsborough and Busselton, Capecare is also struggling to get the staff it needs to provide the best care possible.

Chief executive officer Joanne Penman said they were competing with other health sectors that did pay more.

"We need to attract registered nurses but they can earn more money working in the public hospitals, so we are competing with WA Country Health Service," she said.

An added challenge for the sector is the housing shortage which has forced Capecare to find alternative solutions to get staff, including on-campus living.

But Ms Penman said it was not a long-term solution.

While the issues have been around for years, Ms Penman said the Covid-19 pandemic had highlighted them even further.

Capecare opened its new facility in Dunsborough in October 2021. Picture: Supplied.

Capecare opened its new facility in Dunsborough in October 2021. Picture: Supplied.

"We have had to implement a lot of restrictions with Covid-19 and staff are worn out - it is a challenging environment," she said.

"There is increased safety precautions with PPE and masks and staff have just had to absorb it.

"Now that WA has Covid cases in the community I have been really impressed and proud of our staff and how they have responded, because it's not easy."

Aged care Royal Commission

The final report for the Royal Commission into Aged Care, Quality and Safety was released in February 2021.

The report made 148 recommendations in order to address the ongoing issues in the sector.

One of the recommendations was to professionalise the aged care workforce through changes to education, training, wages, labour conditions and career progression.

Ms Norton said she had seen no changes made since the report into the industry and it felt like "it didn't even happen".

The Coalition government's pre-election budget did not address any of the recommendations from the final report.

Ms Penman said she was disappointed in what the Coalition government offered in the budget for the sector.

"Whoever forms government needs to then prioritise the sector, fund it and commit to the Royal Commission recommendations," she said.

"We need to see detail plans on how it will be implemented."

2022 federal election

While Ms Norton feels "disillusioned" by the lack of attention paid to the aged care sector from politicians she said it would be swaying her vote for the election that will take place on May 21.

"Aged care is an industry that will never fade out," she said.

"Unless its fixed you're not going to have qualified staff to look after them.

"It will come to a point where there is no staff to look after the elderly."

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The Australian Labor Party has promised to introduce a five-point plan which includes registered nurses on site 24/7, a pay increase for workers and mandating that every aged care resident receives an average of 215 minutes of care per day.

The Liberal Party said it would introduce pharmacy services within residential aged care to improve medication management. The party also promise to increase time nurses and carers spend with residents, a retention bonus for nurses and providing 33,000 new training places for personal carers and a new Indigenous workforce.