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“Pathetic in effort and ordinary in application” is how one aged care operator described the government’s latest attempts to solve the COVID vaccination crisis in the sector by mandating vaccinations for aged care workers.

“This is massively overdue and will eventually benefit us, but if you read the fine print it is not until September,” he said.

“Robert” (who prefers to remain anonymous so he can speak frankly) is chair of a number of aged care homes in inner Sydney, responsible for 1000 residents and staff. He raised concerns with me in April about the delay in the federal government vaccination rollout for the sector.

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Since then the government has been touting that it has now vaccinated all patients in homes — but when I checked with Robert last week he pointed out a huge hole in its spin.

While the government had indeed “offered” all residents the vaccine, only about half took it up, and of more concern the 50% rate was about the same for workers.

The concern in the industry about these low numbers among staff obviously forced national cabinet last night to announce the mandatory vaccination policy.

But Robert says the broader problem is vaccine hesitancy which the government has failed to address — or in some cases made worse.

“We have a massive ethnic population among our workers and there is a huge lack of certainty among those groups,” he said.

Aged care homes like his were already finding it “virtually impossible” to find skilled staff and compulsory vaccination, while welcome, will only make it harder in the short term. Not only must the government drastically improve its virtually non-existent vaccination messaging, but it must also address the worsening staffing crisis.

Border closures are the most obvious problem, he says, because previously many staff in the sector came in on sponsored visas from places like the Philippines.

Indeed federal and state governments should perhaps stop pandering to the profit concerns of the university sector and prioritise aged care workers for the first quarantine hubs rather than those being planned to bring back foreign students, he says.

Robert also points out that despite the welcome $18 billion in extra funding to the sector in the last budget he estimated that comes down to only about $10 a resident.

“They have to set better wages for Australian nursing staff,” he said. “It‘s been a long time since Florence Nightingale, and people can’t just do it for the love of it any more.”

Despite all that, Robert vowed: “My overriding concern is to keep everyone alive and well and we will continue to do that.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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