Aged care sector 'in crisis' with more than 1000 registered nurses needed across the country

Denise Smith, a resident at Enliven's Cashmere Home, is one of 23 residents having to move out of the home’s hospital care facility. With Denise moving to Lower Hutt, her brother, Todd Smith, says the distance may affect the ability of their 84-year-old mother to continue her daily visits.
Ross Giblin/Stuff
Denise Smith, a resident at Enliven's Cashmere Home, is one of 23 residents having to move out of the home’s hospital care facility. With Denise moving to Lower Hutt, her brother, Todd Smith, says the distance may affect the ability of their 84-year-old mother to continue her daily visits.

The high cost of living in the capital is inflaming a national nursing shortage, says an aged care provider which has been forced to close one of its 24-hour hospital services.

Enliven Central is moving 23 residents in fulltime care from its Cashmere Home hospital in Johnsonville to other facilities because it can’t attract enough registered nurses to safely run it.

Enliven Central general manager Nicola Turner​ said the closure was the tip of a “national crisis”. She said aged care facilities across Wellington and the Hutt Valley were struggling to find nurses, who were opting for more lucrative roles at public hospitals – in some cases paying $20,000 to $30,000 more, and were put off by the high cost of living in the region.

“You can’t afford to buy or rent on a nurse’s wage,” she said.

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Rental prices in the capital have reached $630 a week, while the latest Real Estate Institute of NZ figures show the median price in the region for March was $939,300.

Todd Smith says his sister Denise’s move came as a shock to the family.
Ross Giblin
Todd Smith says his sister Denise’s move came as a shock to the family.

Patients and staff at the hospital are moving to other nearby Enliven sites. The company runs 14 rest homes in addition to hospital and dementia care units between Wellington and Taranaki.

One of the affected residents is Denise Smith​, who is moving to Enliven’s Woburn Home in Lower Hutt, having lived at Cashmere for five years. Her brother, Todd Smith​, said the news came as a shock to his family – particularly for his 84-year-old mother, Faye​, who travelled daily from Tawa to visit Denise, who has a mental disability.

“This will have a big impact on residents there – it’s their home, they have relationships with the staff who have invested time and energy in the residents, and now they have to say goodbye.

“Denise considers the staff and the home as her family,” he said.

While the Smiths would try to keep up daily visits to Denise, the distance and cost could become prohibitive.

The New Zealand Aged Care Association’s Simon Wallace says the sector is short of more than 1000 registered nurses. (File photo)
SUPPLIED
The New Zealand Aged Care Association’s Simon Wallace says the sector is short of more than 1000 registered nurses. (File photo)

Simon Wallace​, chief executive of the New Zealand Aged Care Association, said the situation with Cashmere was a sad reality being faced by the sector which had received little attention from the central government for too long.

The association represents more than 90% of the country’s rest homes, including 20,000 staff. Wallace said the sector was short of more than 1000 registered nurses.

“This is why we’re seeing rest homes closing down beds. Old, sick people are being uprooted from homes – that’s not good for them or their families.”

Central government support and funding for the aged care sector had not kept up with that of the public health system.

“Funding from the Government doesn’t allow for [pay] parity with public hospitals,” he said.

Wallace and Turner said a large proportion of the nursing workforce was recruited from overseas and New Zealand was competing for workers on the international market where countries like Australia offered better pay.

Wallace said New Zealand needed to remove immigration barriers to make it easier for foreign trained nurses to bring their families with them, and offer better incentives for people to train as nurses domestically.

Aged Care Commissioner Carolyn Cooper​ said nurses could not be blamed for taking better paid jobs.

“The workforce needs to be acknowledged as being as important as the DHB nurses.”

She said vacancy rates across the aged care sector were about 20% and were unsustainable.

Older people deserved a workforce what was capable of caring for them, but she was uncertain the increasing elderly population and the complexity of their needs was being acknowledged.

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Todd Smith was concerned the shortage could worsen and cause more closures.

“My fear is what if this happens again. How will we be able to afford more expensive facilities?”

Smith said Enliven had been able to accommodate those affected in this instance, but the loss of the beds meant people entering the aged care system might miss out.

Cooper agreed saying if the nursing shortage was not addressed, equity issue would become more acute and people might not get the choice in where they lived once they needed care.