A petition calling for mandated nurse to patient ratios in aged care has nearly reached its goal of 35,000 supporters following extensive media coverage of allegations against a residential care facility in Queensland.
Heather Brown began the petition six weeks ago after a recent incident in which she says her husband, who has dementia and lives in a residential care facility in Bundaberg, had been left in a urine soaked pad for 12 hours which had caused the his skin to tear and bleed.
The Bundaberg News Mail broke the story on 19 February, which included another incident from May 2015 in which Mrs Brown says her husband was once left on a veranda covered in his own faeces in view of residents and visitors.
Shortly after the original news story broke, Mrs Brown launched a petition on change.org called Safe Staffing In Aged Care Now, which gained further national media coverage, including a report by channel Ten’s television program, The Project, last week.
The timing of the story raises questions about the launch of the ANMF’s latest campaign to improve working conditions for aged care nurses, including mandated nurse patient ratios in residential care, and whether the nursing union was involved in the media coverage.
The day after The Project story aired, the ANMF came out publicly supporting the petition, saying the report highlights “how dangerously inadequate staffing levels are resulting in a lack of care for nursing home residents.”
“The ANMF is supporting this petition which demands that a Registered Nurse (RN) is working on-site at a nursing home 24/7,” ANMF Federal Secretary, Lee Thomas said.
“There must also be regulation of all AINs/personal care workers who assist in the delivery nursing care and nursing services.”
“A skills mix of Registered Nurses (RN) 30 per cent, Enrolled Nurses (EN) 20 per cent and Personal Care Worker (PCA) 50 per cent is the minimum skills mix needed in nursing homes,” Ms Thomas said.
In her media interviews, Mrs Brown has consistently reiterated that poor staffing levels – not staff – are to blame.
Meanwhile, the aged care provider at the centre of the allegations, Tricare, has had to defend itself against the negative reports despite having passed all recent inspections by the Aged Care Quality Agency.
TriCare director Michael O’Connor told the ABC the been audited twice by the independent Australian Aged Care Quality Agency in the past two months, following concerns raised by Mrs Mansell-Brown and another resident’s wife.
He said the assessments both found they were delivering quality standards of resident care.
“TriCare Bundaberg Aged Care Residence is properly and adequately staffed and we determine staffing levels based on continual assessment of resident care needs,” he said.
While LASA declined to comment on the increasing negative reports in mainstream media including this opinion piece that subsequently ran in the Courier Mail on March 26, ACSA CEO Pat Sparrow reaffirmed ACSA’s stance against fixed staffing.
“ACSA supports sustainable staffing levels, and appropriate skill-mix across the sector, but does not support fixed staffing because aged care facilities need to be staffed to meet the needs of the residents which change over time,” Ms Sparrow said.
“A national survey of aged care providers by StewartBrown shows that due to the changing nature of aged care the number of RN hours per resident per day have actually been increasing across the industry.”
“The number of care hours are increasing also. This includes all direct care staff including care management and allied health employees.”
Ms Sparrow said the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency confirms there are adequate staffing in aged care homes as part of the aged care regulatory regime, and pointed out that the Productivity Commission’s views that an across-the-board staffing ratio would not be an efficient way to improve the quality of care.