‘Verbally abused’ aged care workers call for mental health helpline ahead of federal election

For some Australians, life seems to be returning to normal after the COVID-19 pandemic but for elderly care customers and employees, the risk of the virus continues to plague the sector.

The elderly care sector, both home and home care, is under pressure due to staff shortages, poor wage conditions and heavy work pressure.

Megan Mainwaring, case manager at myHomecare and has worked in aged care for the past eight years, but said the mental toll is becoming “unbearable” on herself and her employees.

“It’s not getting better, even as the pandemic calms down, home care seems more stressful,” Mainwaring said.

Megan Mainwaring, home care case manager at the My Home Care group.
Megan Mainwaring is a case manager at myHomeCare in Sydney. (delivered)

Staff shortages affect home care providers as COVID-19 causes a lot of leave.

But the lack of staff means older clients are delayed in their day-to-day care and frustrations are passed on to staff.

“You have to deal with customers yelling at you because you should have been there two hours ago, but you can’t get there on time because you have so many customers and not enough staff to cover it,” Mainwaring said.

“The customers are frustrated because they can’t go out and their family doesn’t come over. They can become quite verbally aggressive.”

Mainwaring said she has seen an increase in the number of people taking out home care packages after COVID-19 lockdowns in nursing homes have turned people into home care, but the number of staff helping these clients is declining.

“We just don’t have enough staff for all the home care packages.”

“I think the reason behind this is that the work is mentally tough and stressful, when you’re dealing with people who are old, in pain, neglected,” Mainwaring said.

Stuart Miller, CEO of My Home Care Group
Stuart Miller, CEO of My Homecare, said COVID-19 continues to cause staff shortages. (delivered)

The company’s CEO, Stuart Miller, spoke to 9News after leaving a meeting with a customer’s son who complained about the delays in staff caring for his father.

“He was very calm and rational about it, but basically said it wasn’t good enough,” Miller said.

“I had to be very honest with him and say we don’t have any staff at the moment.”

Miller said ongoing COVID-19 precautions are adding to staff pressures that seep into prioritizing customers.

“The staff turnover situation with COVID-19 isolation means we need to control who gets the services,” Miller said.

“We’re very conservative and we need to protect these people. We can’t afford to send an employee in there with a sniff.”

Calls for a mental health helpline in aged care

The added stress of staff shortages, frustrated customers and ongoing COVID-19 safety concerns have led to calls for the federal government to introduce mental health support for employees, as well as incentives to grow the workforce.

Miller is campaigning ahead of the federal election for psychological support services, such as a helpline to be implemented for home health care workers amid the mental toll of the workload.

“We would like to see education and support mechanisms around mental health, and by that I mean psychological counseling,” he said.

“A hotline that understands specific home care issues because we have some specific requirements doesn’t have to be a monstrous service.

“It just needs to understand the struggles our employees are going through.”

Elderly care in particular is under pressure during the pandemic.
Home care provider calls for more education and mental health support as elder care struggles with COVID-19. (Virginia Starr)

Miller also called for resilience training to help staff understand how to deal with confrontation and verbal abuse.

“When Megan talked about being abused, it happens every day, and it’s hard to be abused and want to come back the next day,” he said.

“So the government should contact providers and say that we will offer these free services to build into your team meetings, care manager meetings, field meetings so that we can give you some tips and tools for your staff to get through these problems,” he said.

Pressure to raise wages for aged care workers

Miller added that staff turnover is exacerbated by inadequate wages, another issue he is also calling on the government to address.

“People who do similar work in the disability sector are paid 15 percent more, so it’s not surprising if people become disabled,” he said.

Miller said that with the rising cost of living and gasoline prices, better pay for home health workers is essential as they travel to clients’ homes — something his organization has tried to address by providing fuel-powered cars.

Mainwaring said the low wages “make no sense if you’re taking care of people’s lives” and called for wage increases to attract more people to the industry.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALI - JANUARY 21: A sign showing a COVID-19 testing clinic at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital on January 21, 2022 in Sydney, Australia.  NSW has recorded 46 deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, marking the deadliest day in the state since the start of the pandemic.  NSW also recorded 25,168 new coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours reporting period.  (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)

Your COVID-19 questions answered

Leave a Comment