‘At 21, my career in aged care already feels doomed’
Today I'll be the youngest worker to give evidence to the Aged Care Royal Commission.
This is what I want to tell them:
You've asked me to give evidence today as a young worker just embarking on their career in the sector.
I was born in Congo and speak four languages.
I'm 21 years old and have felt compelled to work in aged care after high school work experience. I was inspired by the outcomes of caring work to follow it as my career. I've always wanted to help people, and have completed my Certificate III in Aged Care and started degrees in nursing and biomedical science.
In 2019, I took a year off from university study to work full-time in aged care. I haven't gone back because I have been so passionate about my current work.
It's really difficult to get full-time work in aged care. To earn a living wage I have to juggle jobs at a two residential aged care homes, both of which have around 70 residents and a dementia wing. I'm casual at one, and permanent part-time at another. I start the day with a morning shift at one facility and end with an afternoon shift at the other.
Aged care is the final years for our residents, so many of who don't have families. As the workers, we often are their family.
I get so much job satisfaction from seeing their smiles and knowing that I've made a difference in their days. All of my colleagues are on the same page about this.
But as well as the few bright spots, workers have enormous strains put on them due to under staffing, under resourcing and under funding.
I've lived in Australian since I was eight years old and I still find it hard to understand how we just don't deliver the proper funding needed for elderly Australians to have dignified care.
It starts with rosters. For my casual role, the rosters are done by someone in head office who doesn't work on site. Sometimes I'm not even in the roster and have to ask for shifts. Yet this facility has to call in last-minute agency staff all the time. For my permanent part-time role, we get the roster in six-week blocks and nominate the shifts we'd like. If no one nominates to fill free shifts, we're simply short staffed. This happens around three to four times a week. If someone is sick they try and find a regular staffer to replace them, but if no one is available then again we work short.
This system is just not working for our residents.
Considerations about safety go in the bin, miracles are expected from workers to get everything done, and with more complex care needs these days so much work is 'high care' and involves two people.
But it's so hard to keep providing quality care when nearly every shift is short-staffed.
How do you look after your own residents when you have to go to another wing for 40 minutes to help a colleague with a double assist? My residents have to wait, which means I can't help them to do the most simple things like go to the toilet when they want to. It makes everyone upset, workers are rushing, residents do not get their bells answered, families complain.
Virtually all training has switched to being online, which means that we listen to someone talk in a video before answering multiple choice questions during work hours. Those who don't do the training - usually because we are simply too busy during shift hours - aren't included in the roster.
I'm doing work I care about, but I'm just not sure about the future. I want to continue on, but the pay is really low and with no full time work available it's going to be hard financially. I'm still young, but I'm always exhausted after my shifts and I'm worried about injuring my back like so many of my colleagues have done.
I want to say to the Royal Commission today that things need to change.
I could spend more time with each resident, I could listen to their needs and not rush them. If there were more staff and better equipment, we can enjoy jobs that are providing quality care. But providers don't want to acknowledge that there are any of these problems, it's all about budgets, not about what the lovely older Australians in our care need.
Only when things change will young workers like me will feel like we can stay in aged care.
Lavina Luboya is an aged care worker from Western Australia. She is the youngest worker to have given evidence to the Aged Care Royal Commission.