Aged care workforce shortage to have greatest impact on older Australians living in regional areas
Andrew Kinkade, Managing Director Bupa Villages & Aged Care.
We welcome the Federal Government’s commitment to fully fund the wage increase for all aged care workers.
However, the workforce challenges facing the aged care sector are far more severe in regional and rural Australia, and without immediate action, in addition to the wage increase, there are very real risks to the future of homes in communities outside major cities.
In regional Australia, aged care homes are critical parts of the community, economically and symbolically. Along with providing care and support to older Australians who have grown up or moved into the area or its surrounds, these homes contribute significantly to the local economy and employment and support local small business.
The sector-wide workforce shortage has now reached a tipping point where many regional homes are now declining new residents, not because they don’t have room, but because there simply aren’t enough people to properly care for them. This means many older Australians are increasingly going without care or are unnecessarily taking up hospital beds awaiting a place in residential care. Others have been forced to find homes far from where they would like to be, separating them from their families and community.
As the largest aged care provider in regional Australia, Bupa has been investing significantly in our own workforce programs and have been putting into effect a range of incentives to attract and build our regional workforce. This includes including nurse graduate programs, traineeships and financial support for people to move to the regions. From July this year, we’ll also be providing fully subsidised Bupa health insurance for full-time employees in our regional homes, including their families, and a 40% subsidy for all our other employees.
We’re also working with WomenCAN Australia to support women from vulnerable backgrounds in regional Australia to embark on a career in aged care with a paid traineeship and a guaranteed offer of employment at the end of their training. These are initiatives that we can put into practice, but we know they cannot address the wider challenges at play.
With the looming crisis in regional Australia, coordination across all levels of government is required.
We should start by sending a clear signal that nurse-led care for older Australians is important and should be rewarded and recognised. Due to differences in pay under relevant awards and enterprise agreements, aged care nurses can often earn significantly more across the road in a hospital. We need to value those working in aged care the same as those working in a hospital, and the simple way to do this is through pay parity.
An immediate solution is to create a new visa to fast-track approval for aged care workers and provide them with better pathways to permanent residency, as recommended by the Productivity Commission and similar to what has been done in Canada. It’s estimated that up to 500,000 skilled people are waiting for visas – many of these people would want to work in regional Australia.
We can also make it more attractive for people to have a second career in aged care. We can harness the working power of the four million Australians aged 65 and above by making small changes to the pension and tax system that would allow them to work more than one day a week without losing their pension. New Zealand has done this and seen the benefit for both its workers and its community. If Australia had the same 65+ workforce participation as New Zealand, we estimate we would have more than 10,000 more people in the aged care workforce.
Finally, we need to encourage people to move from the cities to the regions, such as wiping HECS debt for RNs and carers who commit to working long-term in regional Australia. In many regions, better access to affordable housing is also key, with post COVID migration from cities and growth in short-term rentals has meant that many essential workers are unable to access housing in many regional centres.
While there is no quick fix, we believe that greater partnership across all levels of government is critical can resolve these issues in regional Australia. This will go towards plugging the short-term gaps while laying a smoother foundation for the future to ensure as a society, we’re delivering the care older Australians and their families expect and deserve, now and into the future.