So many of us in the aged care sector are feeling the impact of months of disaster planning, crisis management and shock, along with the grief and fear of Covid-19. This is not a reaction to Victoria’s state of emergency, although that certainly has added to the tightening of the vice around our collective consciousness. This is about each of us wanting to do the best that we can to achieve the best outcomes for our residents, their families, our community and our colleagues. That is why we work within the health profession or the caring, catering, housekeeping or maintenance roles that we have chosen. We certainly don’t want to succumb to the virus ourselves, or to take the virus home to our family and friends. Actually, most of my co-workers in aged care confess that their most terrible fear is of bringing the virus into the community of older people whom they love and care for.
We are here because we want to make a difference. All we can do is to give our utmost with the resources available, one day at a time.
I’m distressed by the lack of collegiality, the public shaming and scapegoating of aged care we have witnessed. I am wounded by the projection of negativity from colleagues from other subgroups in the aged care sector, from healthcare professionals, and from politicians and government workers. Inquiry after inquiry has identified that aged care is chronically under-funded, and we have a royal commission in progress which has made some suggestions we desperately hope might result in changes for the better. For many years our community as a whole has not wanted to make the investment that is necessary for Australia to be a best-practice provider of healthcare and accommodation for older people with complex health conditions and dementia. Governments on both sides of politics have not yet been prepared to make the necessary changes, and their expressions of shock and blaming of others stretches credulity.
Carl Jung put a name to the human phenomena of scapegoating back in the 1930s – projection. When we find a part of ourselves so distasteful that we cannot own it, our society tends to disown it, split it off and project it on to others. And so we find our commonwealth and state politicians and bureaucrats engaged in a race to the bottom. Sadly some clinicians in acute healthcare, some unions and public sector aged care have joined them in demonising the private and not-for-profit aged care sector.
The truth is that there are systemic issues which mean aged care has nowhere near the resources required to ensure we comprehensively and completely meet the holistic needs of our older Victorians who need residential aged care. Despite the limitations, the majority of aged care communities that I have been a part of, across the not-for-profit and public sector in two southern states, have been places where many residents feel deeply valued. Residents have often told me that they experience joy, belonging and satisfaction. They tell me that they have been surprised that they have made new friends with staff and other residents. Staff are mindful that the pressure on their time and the prioritisation of the needs mean that residents’ need for identity and engagement and other needs are sometimes unmet, and that there are some lost opportunities.
A good number of residents have escaped loneliness and emptiness but almost all would rather be restored to full health and living independently at home again. Unfortunately, that is not a choice open to them.
In my experience as a quality and risk professional, nurse adviser, educator and executive manager, people working in aged care are doing an extraordinary job. Nurses, carers and other workers are mindful of the gaps in service provision and want to do more. Many are telling me that they are finding it incredibly challenging getting up for work each day when confronted by accusations that they are uncaring, underperforming, ill-prepared and undeserving. The knowledge that some of these accusations are coming from leaders and politicians, and from colleagues in the public sector and aged care, make them all the more painful.
I may be very fortunate but I have never worked for an aged care provider that doesn’t exist for the wellbeing of residents and that doesn’t have a realistic and humble knowledge of its strengths and its gaps and opportunities for improvement. Clearly we have all been witnesses to a tragedy at a grand scale with the prevalence of Covid-19 outbreaks and the deaths of older Australians in New South Wales and Victoria. If we disown our society’s unwillingness to divert resources to caring for older people and vilify all private and not-for-profit aged care providers, we will risk missing an opportunity for transformational change and we will drive away our values-driven workforce from the sector.
• Mary Lynch is a registered nurse with more than 30 years of clinical experience who works in a not-for-profit aged care community in regional Victoria. Her article is a personal reflection
Source: The Guardian