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It’s time to speak frankly about staff ratios

7th September 2018

Lynda Saltarelli’s article in The Age (4th Sept’ 18) reminds us there are three things in life we cannot avoid, “death, taxes and talking about aged-care staffing ratios”. It is time to reframe the discussion, moving from “more staff, particularly qualified staff, will keep our older people safe” to “what staffing model will ensure those in our care have a positive experience of ageing?”

It’s easy to believe mandatory ratios will be the saviour, and the push for ratios has been around for decades. I believe it’s a blunt instrument that does not address the individual requirements of each resident. Readers might be interested to know the now infamous Oakden Aged Mental Health Care Service in South Australia, that failed to provide good care on so many levels, had staffing ratios.

Benetas, as a not-for-profit aged care provider, is currently introducing a new model of care into our homes. Our model is based on providing a home like environment and individualised care. The introduction of mandatory ratios would destroy our model.

Lynda’s concern about the lack of data collection is valid. Or rather, the sector (including Government) fail to put captured data to good use. My experience is that much data is collected in aged care but is seldom collated, analysed and accessible. This is a clear area for improvement.

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The introduction of a staffing ratio would escalate costs and this isn’t sustainable for most providers. I would love to employ more staff but when indexation to our sector has been significantly less than staff costs for the last 10 years, the sums do not add up. Even if we had the funds, there isn’t an army of qualified nurses queuing up to work in aged care.

The Federal Government hasn’t responded to a number of recommendations contained in recent reports about the aged care sector. A favourable response to the income-generating recommendations of the 2017 Tune Review would help improve employment conditions and advance quality of care for older people. I believe this is an important election issue.