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Catherines Comment of 4 November

Whitianga | Fri November 07, 2014

Caring for our elders

The Whitianga community is rightly proud of its aged care nurses and other workers. Like so many around the country, these low-paid and hard-working people give families confidence that their elders are being cared for with skill and respect.

That is why I cheered when the Court of Appeal upheld the right of aged care worker Christine Bartlett to keep fighting for equal pay for herself and her colleagues. The Bartlett case is about women’s wages compared to equivalent male-dominated professions, but it’s also about aged care.

But unfortunately for aged care in Whitianga, we have more issues than just wages for aged care staff. When Oceania bought the Whitianga aged care facility, it was basically changed from a community trust to a private profit making facility. Oceania is one of the larger aged care chains and has done well out of their establishments. They get a standard fee from the Government per client. The amount they can charge is capped, but with an extensive property portfolio they can make good profits.

Hence the concern from local families when the staff ratios and rosters started to change and families saw their loved ones at risk. This is all hotly denied by Oceania and by the Government, who have received letters from the families expressing concern. What they are not saying is the extent to which residential care standards are voluntary and how changes to rosters affect cleaners, carers, and nurses.

The truth is that every time staff are put under more pressure, the aged care residents are as well. The staff do their jobs from a sense of mission as well as a need for employment and they deal with some very challenging issues.

My family relied heavily on aged care workers when my mother had dementia, but we were lucky. We found her a place in a not-for-profit trust who maintained excellent standards. Like other families, we knew what was happening because one of us was there virtually every day. The Whitianga families tell me that they are constant visitors at the Oceania facility and they see negative changes affecting their loved ones despite a high level of commitment and good will from the staff. That is why there is a petition in the community calling for high standards of care via sufficient staffing hours -
because it’s people that care for people and our elders need this.

Catherine Delahunty

Green Party Member of Parliament

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