Residential care 'in crisis' - nurses' union

Last updated 05:00 02/08/2013

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The nurses' union is calling for enforceable minimum staffing ratios in the elderly care sector after revelations a patient was left covered in her own faeces at a Wellington rest home.

Susan Christian has found her 69-year-old mother, who has Alzheimer's disease and had suffered a stroke, in a shocking state at the Malvina Major Retirement Village hospital on three occasions since early June.

The village is owned by Ryman Healthcare, which says an investigation has been completed with a "satisfactory outcome".

Ryman general manager Simon Challies said discussions were under way "with staff individually. We have identified the problem and are taking action".

He refused to comment on whether any staff were losing their jobs.

"We are in a process. I cannot comment on individual positions."

David Wait, the New Zealand Nurses Organisation's industrial adviser for the aged care sector, said nurses were being unfairly blamed and the union supported calls by the family for changes and improvements to the sector.

"This is not an isolated incident," he said. "It is not just a Ryman issue; it is one of many. Residential care is in crisis."

The union is calling for the Government to introduce enforceable minimum staffing level ratios, saying nurses and carers "simply cannot provide the care they want to if the facility is understaffed and under-resourced".

Lack of mandatory staffing levels, inadequate registered nursing hours and training, and a pay rate for carers who were either on or close to the minimum wage showed how undervalued the work was.

"Staffing levels are dangerously low," Wait said.

"It is so disheartening they are unable to provide the quality care they want to.

"Government funding is inadequate for that level of care.

"Nine years ago, carers did not have enough time to have a cup of tea with residents. Now they do not have enough time to brush residents' teeth regularly. There is an emotional cost on staff."

Union professional nursing adviser Lorraine Ritchie said a former Ryman employee had told her there was one registered nurse rostered for the entire Malvina Major complex in Broadmeadows overnight.

"That's one nurse responsible for over 200 residents and patients... the Government must step up and make the changes needed to improve things for our elderly," Ritchie said.

Massey University researcher Chrissy Severinsen said the latest case drew attention to the quality of rest home care and the need to make homes more accountable.

"Inadequate staff numbers, increasing workloads and workplace stress, hurried or delayed care are often explained by agencies or the industry as poor practice and management at individual rest homes, but it is symptomatic of problems across many rest homes," she said.

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The Aged Care Association said what took place at Malvina Major was totally unacceptable, but it did not believe there was a systemic problem of ill-treatment in rest homes.

"Ryman looks after thousands of people every year and very rarely have these issues," association chief executive Martin Taylor said.

- The Dominion Post

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