Aged care staff sacked as virus crisis looms



AGED care homes are sacking staff despite the COVID-19 pandemic, sparking demands for a strike force of back-up nurses in case of an outbreak.

Queensland Nurses and Midwives' Union secretary Beth Mohle yesterday warned that some providers are making nurses and carers redundant, despite pocketing hundreds of millions of dollars in extra taxpayer funding to cope with the crisis.

"Aged care is a basket case,'' she said yesterday.

"We do not have enough qualified nursing staff.

"The poor bloody carers are doing the best job they can but they're not necessarily informed in infection control.''

Ms Mohle said the biggest aged care providers, TriCare and the Uniting Church-owned BlueCare, were sacking staff or slashing workers' hours.

She warned that the state government's ban on staff working shifts across different aged care homes would make staff shortages even worse.

Queensland Nurses and Midwives Union Secretary Beth Mohle describes aged care as a “basket case”. File picture
Queensland Nurses and Midwives Union Secretary Beth Mohle describes aged care as a “basket case”. File picture

"The largest providers in the state are making nurses redundant at a time when they're most needed,'' she said.

"We haven't got the staffing numbers or skills mix to care safely for people, particularly in a pandemic.''

A Blue Care spokesman yesterday said a "small number of adjustments in our aged care teams'' had affected 0.25 per cent of the workforce.

"Our net number of aged care employees has not decreased in 2020,'' he said.

TriCare did not comment yesterday but an industry leader called for a "surge workforce'' of back-up nurses to work in any Queensland aged care homes with a COVID-19 outbreak.

"The situation in Victoria is a deadly warning for Queensland,'' Leading Age Services Australia chief executive Sean Rooney told The Courier-Mail yesterday.

"We need to ensure there are plans in place for a surge workforce, that there are adequate supplies of PPE, that staff will be totally supported to work on single sites only, and that there is no financial penalty for staff if they are required to self-isolate.

"It is also critical that aged care residents are transferred to hospital when the need arises.''

Mr Rooney said aged care operators "need collaboration with, and assurance from, Queensland authorities to ensure we are all prepared for a significant outbreak in residential aged care''.

Two-thirds of 1500 aged care staff surveyed by the Australian Nurses and Midwives' Federation last month reported staff cuts at their facilities since the start of the pandemic in March.

The federal government has handed aged care homes an extra $200 million to hire extra cleaners and pay for infection control, and has announced a "retention bonus'' of up to $800 per worker.

Mr Rooney said aged care homes were "dedicated to maintaining an adequate and well-trained workforce, especially in the face of the increasing danger from coronavirus.''

Queensland Health has been approached for comment.

Originally published as Aged care staff sacked as virus crisis looms